Police Commissioner announces new anti-spitting technology

Police Commissioner Hannibal Mugfur announced a monumental new technology today guaranteed to solve thousands of crimes, bring deviants to justice and make the City’s sidewalks cleaner. Unveiling a demonstration model of the SPITSUCKER-100™ before a delighted audience at Daffy Duck Middle School, Mugfur explained that it would enable the police to collect the thousands of saliva samples voluntarily deposited on city sidewalks and enter them into a portable database for DNA comparison.

SPITSUCKER-100™ is a microchip installed on a police officer’s shoe sole that automatically detects traces of expectoration on the sidewalk and enters it into a database attached to the officer’s ear. If DNA from the saliva matches a profile in the database, the officer’s ear lights up and an all-points bulletin goes out for the spitter’s arrest. If there’s no matching profile, the District Attorney’s Office convenes a Grand Jury and indicts the spit.

The device costs between $100,000 and $300,000 each, depending on the size of the officer’s feet.

The Mayor hailed it as a monumental breakthrough for justice.  “No longer will spitters escape detection by walking away,” he said. “Sidewalk expectoration is the gateway to violent crimes.  Spitsucker-100™ will enable the police to catch rapists, murderers and people who see a suspicious package on the subway but keep it to themselves.”

“We need to keep our kids safe from spitters,” agreed Assemblywoman Chlorox Trump (no relation to the President). “I’ve introduced a bill prohibiting any convicted spitter from going within 1,000 feet of a sidewalk. ”

Some scientists urged caution. “The SPITSUCKER-100™ doesn’t distinguish between human expectoration intentionally deposited on the sidewalk and involuntary drool from canines,” said Dr. Grant of Harvard University. “There needs to be far more research and experiments with college students.”

“Nonsense,” snapped Dr. Retort of the Medical Examiner’s Office, who developed the device. “It’s achieved full scientific consensus. Everybody in my office agrees it’s a proven scientific tool to convict criminals.”

“It’s a clear threat to civil liberties,” said an ACLU spokesperson. “Persons convicted of crimes are vastly over-represented in our prisons.”

Posted in Forensic "science", Law & Parody, Satirical cartoons | 2 Comments

“The War on Sex”

  As anyone knows who litigates SORA hearings, reason and a dime will get you a cup of coffee. The “research,” endorsed by the Supreme Court, showing that sex offenders have a “frighteningly high” rate of recidivism comes from a magazine article. The more boring but reliable literature shows that sex offender recidivism rates are no higher than that of other criminals. Burglars, for example, are way ahead. But what’s the use of mere information in a time of moral panic?

So we when we heard about a book of essays criticizing the Megan’s Law regime, entitled “The War on Sex” (2017) Halperin & Hope, eds., we immediately snagged a copy. Alas, for all the footnotes and academic trappings, it’s basically a polemic. The hyperbolic title should have clued us. War on sex? Au contraire, everything from mega-billboards advertising underpants to the Supreme Court’s paean to gay marriage promotes sex as the key to meaning and happiness.  A more accurate title might be, “There’s a War on ‘Sex Offenders’ That Should Worry Us More Than It Apparently Does.” But who’d buy a book called that?

The book’s premise is that beneath the apparent expansion of sexual freedom over the last 50 years, there lurks, like the picture of Dorian Gray, a simultaneously growing horror.  It argues that phenomena such as the sex offender registration and civil commitment laws; the mistreatment of transgender prison inmates; the Vatican’s opposition to gender fluidity; the misuse of sex trafficking laws to oppress sex workers; and the policing of HIV-positive persons –  are all part of a new war on sex. And because this war is “intertwined with racism, sexism, social inequality, and homophobia,” it “demands a coalitional response” from the corresponding social justice movements.

Several of the essays bravely grapple with the inherent contradiction. Social justice advocates want more protections for persons they consider to be victimized. But the resulting proliferation of criminal laws targeting domestic violence and hate speech, for example, has contributed to the carceral state, i.e., more men in jail. As one author argues, the effect of New York’s sex trafficking laws has been to arrest more streetwalkers – the very people the laws were supposed to protect.

The book is unfortunately full of sweeping assertions that are more ideological than reliable.  For example, one author asserts without explanation that the Static-99, an actuarial instrument widely used to assess the risk of sexual recidivism, is based on homophobic research such as Nazi castration experiments. That’s inexcusably misleading, whatever the failings of the Static-99.  Another author asserts that there are fewer white men on the sex offender registry because some jurisdictions don’t include incest offenders. We’d suggest checking that out before putting it into a brief.

As refreshing as it is to hear resistance to Megan’s Law, it’s unlikely that sex offenders will ever be the rallying point for progressive groups. There will never be a Sex Offender Pride parade.  At best, progressives will protest the prosecution of people who aren’t really sex offenders, such as sexting teenagers or HIV-positive prostitutes. But where are these social justice warriors when a “real” sex offender victimizes one of their own? As often as not, picketing the courthouse to see that he doesn’t get away with a “lenient” sentence.

The book has brought home to us that our job isn’t to vindicate this or that group, but to insist on our clients’ constitutional rights, no matter who they are or what they’ve done or who they’ve done it to. As the great Rumpole of the Bailey said, we’re old taxis that stop for anyone in trouble. Although we’d never add, as Rumpole did, “however repellent.”

Posted in Civil Liberties, Law, SORA | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Are you a cissy?

One of the many annoyances of being accused of a crime is having to put up with humiliating questions from your lawyer. Like, “Was your grandmother a drug addict?” “When was the last time you had sex?” or “Do you hear voices?” [Correct answer: Yes, when people are talking].

But that’s nothing compared to what lawyers are supposed to ask now, based on the latest advances in client-centered embarrassment:

Scene: Arraignment pens, counsel visiting area. 

Lawyer: Hi there! I’m Suzy, a cis-gendered woman, and I’ll be your attorney for today.

Defendant: About time. I’ve been locked up for a week without seeing a lawyer. I’m innocent. The cops broke down my door without a warrant –

Lawyer: What name would you like me to call you?

Defendant:  My homies call me Killer, but I’d rather you didn’t mention that in court. More prejudicial than probative, if you know what I mean. As I was saying, the cops said they’d shoot my dog if I didn’t voluntarily come to the precinct –

Lawyer:  [Reading from a card] I need to know whether your name expresses your internal deeply-held sense of your gender which may or may not be the same or different from your sex assigned at birth –

Defendant: Yeah, whatever. Then they handcuffed me to a chair and started throwing lighted matches on my lap, causing imminent danger to my manhood –

Lawyer: Tut, tut, gender isn’t a matter of stereotypical physical characteristics –

Defendant:   – so I confessed. But I can prove it’s false because there’s a surveillance tape showing I was on the other side of town at the time.  My wife  –

Lawyer:  Your wife? What gender identity does they go by?

Defendant: Yo, are you calling me a FRUIT?

Lawyer: That’s a very discredited terminology. The term is non-binary gender fluid –

Defendant: Will you lower your voice? I’m in a holding cell with 20 other guys, you know what I’m saying?

Lawyer: I’d feel so much better about our relationship if you’d only come out of the closet.

Defendant: But I’m a man. Like Muddy Waters says, “M-A-N, I’m the hootchie cootchie man -”

Lawyer: You sexist pig, how dare you! (Exit)

Defendant: Damn these girl lawyers.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Humor, Law & Parody, Satirical cartoons | 2 Comments

Powerpoint for the defense

Prosecutors see nothing wrong with summing up with Powerpoint like this:

Well, two can play this game. Here are some handy graphics for defense summations:

My client is presumed innocent.

Officer Blow wasn’t credible.

Consider the absence of evidence.

Don’t be swayed by passion or prejudice.

The People’s case doesn’t add up.


The People haven’t carried their burden of proof.


Posted in Criminal law, Humor, Law & Parody, Satirical cartoons | Tagged | 1 Comment

Prosecutor Powerpoint and Wigmore’s horse

Since prosecutors’ summations are basically commercials to sell the jury on a guilty verdict, it was only a matter of time before they started using advertising graphics.

In People v. Santiago (2014), New York’s top court saw nothing wrong with the People’s showing a series of photoshopped slides supposedly showing a baby’s soul fading into oblivion. To prove that she was smothered on purpose and not by accident.

Naturally, it proved no such thing, but there wasn’t a dry eye in the courtroom and you can guess what the verdict was.

Recently the Court has again given the green light to creative prosecution, this time approving the People’s touching up the defendant’s arrest photo with arrows pointing to his face. Each arrow demonstrating their “theory of the case,” i.e., that the defendant was “the face of death.” People v. Anderson (2017).  It must have looked something like this:

It was also fine for the People to add comments to the autopsy diagram, so long as they were “fair inferences.”

The Court reasoned that if it’s okay to say it, it’s okay to show it. The dissent, who apparently reads something besides law reports, argued that it’s been known for quite awhile that people tend to uncritically believe what they see. Whereas we recognize words as just something coming from speakers, we respond to images as “reality.” Therefore, visual “information” can be persuasive for the wrong reasons.

This isn’t a new discovery. Back in 1904, Wigmore on Evidence observed that visual aids in the courtroom can positively substitute for proof. Does Doe accuse Roe of stealing his horse? Have a horse brought into the courtroom and triumphantly say, “If you doubt me, there is the very horse!” The jury will consider this as definitive corroboration.

 Believing what we see is explained by evolutionary biology.  When confronted by a saber-toothed tiger, the humans who said, “Aw, that’s probably just photoshopped,” tended to have fewer descendents than the ones who ran. But critical thinking wins out in the end. . . doesn’t it?

Posted in Criminal law, Law & Parody, Satirical cartoons | Tagged | 1 Comment

In memory of Dennis Murphy, public defender

Dennis horsing around at the office 2015

Dennis Murphy passed away at home in his sleep on March 22, 2017, after several years of being progressively weakened by neurodegenerative illness.  He was Director of Training at the Legal Aid Society, where he overflowed with more ideas for projects in a single conversation than most people come up with in a whole career.  He read widely, knew everybody, and delighted in bringing people together: attorneys, law professors, experts, academics in all fields and anyone whose knowledge he thought would make us better lawyers.  Being a lawyer wasn’t just about doing the next case. It was also about ideas: “Never let the urgent drive out the important,” he said.  So, training could be anything from how to litigate a suppression hearing to investigating a mock crime scene to looking at paintings at the Metropolitan Museum, the lesson being that there’s always more than meets the eye.

When walking became too difficult, he adopted a bright red golf-cart-like vehicle, adeptly tooling around the office. We never heard him grumble or complain, even when being kept waiting in the lobby for hours to be picked up by Access-a-Ride. “At least they give same-day service,” he’d say.

Dennis was married to Dr. Maureen O’Connor, a lawyer and psychologist who headed the Psychology Department at John Jay College and then the Doctoral Program in Psychology at CUNY.  When she was appointed President of Palo Alto University last August, this seemed like a perfect move for them and their daughter Katy, just out of college. Asked about his plans, Dennis happily answered,  “I’m going to sit in a jacuzzi and catch up on my reading.”

Here’s his farewell to Legal Aid:

This is goodbye from Dennis.  Maureen, Katy, and I leave for California on Tuesday, June 21st.  If you count my short tenure as an alcohol tax inspector for ATF in San Francisco in the early 1970’s, this marks my 44th year in the larger world of law and justice.  12 jobs in 44 years. Lots of challenges, friends, mentors, mentees, and lots of clients. Being a public defender – representing poor people in misdemeanors, felonies, and capital cases and providing training to public defenders  – has been the highlight of my career.  I’ve made monumental mistakes and left some aspirational projects on the table, unfinished.  And there have been successes, but I’ll let others do the math.

One thing is certain:  any accomplishments owe much to others with whom I’ve worked side-by-side.  The list is embarrassingly long [followed by a very long list]. Thanks so much to everyone.

But it’s all about our clients, isn’t it?  My “five year plan” – renewed annually – has been for us to change the “talk” at Rikers Island from “I got a public pretender” to a proud thump on the chest “I’ve got Legal Aid!”  We’re not there yet, nor is any other PD.  But we must keep trying!  Love your clients, no matter how they treat you.  Go to Rikers and visit them; it’s amazing how that can transform an attorney-client relationship.  Even so, you’ll never get the number of “thank you’s” that you deserve.  Treasure the ones you receive.

Enough preaching. I love you all.  If you are in the Bay area, let me know.  And in case you haven’t seen me wrestling Victor the Bear, please review the attached critically.

Dennis (far left)

Posted in Law & Parody | Tagged | 5 Comments

When is a trial not a trial? When there’s no jury.

“Can you follow the law as instructed by His Most Radiant Honor the Judge?”

We recently briefed a case where the judge took the bench after the lunch break and announced, “The Court has arrived at a verdict.  The verdict is –,” until the parties frantically stopped her. The trial hadn’t finished yet!  She apologized and sat patiently through the rest of the trial before delivering the guilty verdict she’d already decided on.

How do we know she’d already decided? Because for starters, it was called the “Domestic Violence Court,” a name that might as well be “The Man Is Guilty” Court.  Or the “Once-You’ve-Seen-One-You’ve-Seen-Them-All” Court. How can a busy, overworked judge possibly be expected to remember which case is which?

That’s why the People like to reduce the charges to a lower grade so the defendant doesn’t get a jury trial — the myth being that a trial for a “petty” crime isn’t worth the trouble of hauling in a bunch of cranky citizens who insist that jury duty is against their religion.  The reality being that a conviction of a petty crime is enough to send you to jail for “only” three months, make you lose your job, put you on the Sex Offender Registry, and/or various other obstructions to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Everything from the Supreme Court’s recent paen to jury trials to “Twelve Angry Men”* shows why multiple heads are better than one.  Remember in the movie where the jurors are all set to convict the boy because he had a knife just like the murder weapon? And Henry Fonda pulls out the same kind of pocketknife to show how common it is? Persuading the other jurors to put aside their unreasoning prejudices and acquit before he pulls out a gun?

Not only does the lonely judge have no one to talk to, “reasonable doubt” is a contradiction in terms when she can expect to see her mug on the front page of the tabloids if she acquits.  Fuggetabout if the defendant ever, ever commits a crime in the future.

If there must be solo judge trials, then judges should have to explain their verdicts in writing, just like they do for hearings.  No reason to protect the sanctity of the beak’s in cerebro deliberations.  The next courtroom drama will be “Twelve Angry Neurons.”

*Check out the Bollywood version.

Posted in Criminal law, Judges, Law & Parody, Satirical cartoons | Tagged | 2 Comments