Monday, June 30, 2014

Cellphone Technology; Junk science? Lisa Roberts. Oregon; The science behind police use of cellphone records to place suspects near crime scenes is coming under increasing attack in the courts, the Washington Post reports. (Must Read. HL);

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STORY: "Experts say law enforcement's use of cellphone records can be inaccurate,"  by  Tom Jackman, published by the Washington Post on June 27, 2014.  (Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998. In 2011 he launched The State of NoVa blog, a state strictly defined as the boundaries of four counties and one city: Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Alexandria."

GIST: "The use of cellphone records to place suspects at or near crime scenes is coming under attack in courts nationwide, challenging an established practice by federal and local law enforcement that has helped lead to thousands of convictions. Cellphone records are often used as evidence, relied upon to trace which cell tower was used to make or receive a call and then determine a caller’s whereabouts. But experts say that using a single tower to precisely locate where someone was at the time of a crime has severe limitations. And while defense lawyers are gradually recognizing the problems with such evidence, the FBI continues to rely heavily on the data in its investigations. The agency wants to expand its full-time team of 32 agents dedicated to the analysis of cell-site data, and it has trained more than 5,000 state and local police investigators in the basic methodology. The conflict between the growing awareness of cell records’ limitations and the FBI’s desire to expand their use is increasingly forcing the nation’s judges to parse the technical evidence and determine if it’s being used fairly.........“They’re using this stuff to put people in jail,” said Michael Cherry, a former Bell Labs and NASA consultant whose Falls Church, Va., company is pushing law enforcement and the defense bar to understand cellphone technology. “Lisa Roberts went through a nightmare,” said Cherry, who assisted the defense in both the Roberts and Chicago cases. “Complicated telephone technology is frequently oversold and under-defended in the courtroom.”".........In cases where judges have allowed the evidence, some juries have figured it out on their own. In Connecticut, prosecutors claimed that they could place an alleged kidnapper at the scene of the crime by his cellphone records, as well as testimony from his six co-defendants or informants. “Due to the junk science that the state introduced,” defense attorney Aaron Romano said, “it called into question the other witnesses against him.” His client was acquitted. In a 2009 murder case in Ocala, Fla., prosecutors tried to use cellphone records to show the defendant was near the crime scene. “We were just able to take on the science behind it,” public defender Nicole Hardin said. “You could be standing on one street and be picked up by a tower not in that radius or footprint. If there’s too much interference or it’s overloaded, it’s relatively unreliable.” The jury found her client not guilty."

The entire story can be found at:

See Innocence Project Lisa Roberts Page: "In addition, a defense expert re-investigated the cell phone records and concluded that cell phone tower data was not capable of pinpointing Roberts’s location. The defense expert said that the prosecution’s expert had not considered the wide area that the tower that picked up Roberts’s cell phone on the day of the crime was designed to cover, nor other variables such as the call load, network of the tower and the cell phone provider's software, all of which could have affected which tower picked up Roberts’s call. In April 2014, Judge Marsh granted the habeas petition and vacated Roberts’s guilty plea. The judge ruled that Roberts’s defense attorney was constitutionally ineffective because he failed to investigate the cell tower evidence. The judge held: “Despite the critical importance of the cell tower evidence, (Roberts’s attorney) failed to take reasonable steps to collect the relevant data and independently evaluate the reliability of the (prosecution’s) analysis before advising his client to plead guilty to manslaughter.”"

The entire story can be found at:


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