Sunday, March 18, 2012

GPS Evidence: Ability to Detect True Innocence, and avoid the temptation of Law Enforcement Evidence Fabrication

When you read recent GPS evidence cases, nearly all the cases start with a recitation of the facts that show how law enforcement, when using GPS on a vehicle, discovered evidence of a crime, very often overwhelming evidence, that, by itself, would convict of guilt. You will not read a case that begins like this: "Law enforcement attached a GPS tracking device to vehicle. After tracking for two weeks, no evidence of crime or guilt was found. Without contacting or his family, business associates or physically following him, law enforcement concluded that he was innocent. The GPS device was recovered, the information erased, and the next investigation started. Few law enforcement resources were used on this investigation; an multiple simultaneous investigations (some disclosing crime) were possible."

You also won't read this: "Law enforcement, faced with a clear crime of continuing theft, and several persons who could have committed the theft, chose to use GPS tracking to determine who was committing the crimes. They attached multiple GPS units to possible perpetrator vehicles. Using the GPS tracking data evidence, they determined the guilty party. In addition, they had positive evidence that none of the other possible perpetrators had anything to do with the thefts. None of the innocent possible perpetrators had to face questioning, possible employer prejudice, co-worker disgrace, or were the subjects of rumors or taunts. Nor was the guilty target tipped off an investigation was going on, therefore did not dispose of physical evidence or flee."

Why won't you read these fact summaries in trial court or appeals court cases? Because while most law enforcement activities are only closed by the guilt or conviction of a suspect, it is rare to have positive proof of innocence of the type GPS tracking can provide. (DNA comes the closest.) Proof of innocence allows law enforcement to, in good conscience, close cases, rather than let them sit open. Cases where the targets were found positively innocent, either by physical absence from the scene of crime, no evidence of crime, or positive proof someone else committed the crime in conjunction with positive proof of the target innocence are not tried, and are not appealed. Our system of judicial “error correction” and “policy making” only come into play when the judicial process proceeds past the investigation stage. However, proof of innocence is just as much a sign of a successful investigation as proof of guilt, however rare.

Therefore, GPS evidence gets bad press, because only the problems (loss of privacy and constitutional issues) are reported on. Investigations that quietly exonerate the innocent get no attention.

The importance of GPS evidence of innocence is, therefore:

  1. Maximum Utilization of Law Enforcement Resources: First, because GPS evidence is relatively easy to gather, cheap in terms of human resources, time and energy, getting to a determination of evidence will occur relatively quickly, allowing law enforcement to “move on” to other investigations. Because less resources are needed to investigate murders, more theft investigations can occur, and if less resources are needed for thefts, more fraud investigations take place. In his book, The Tipping Point:How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell describes, well, how small changes can and do make big differences. Widespread use of GPS evidence to prove innocence, cheaply and quickly, will allow resources to focus on affirmatively proving the guilt of other parties in other crimes. There are only so many dollars to pay so many officers for so many hours; how they function determines how efficiently they can effectively deter crime. Investigating the innocent is a waste of that time, but no one knows it until either innocence is proven, or investigation is abandon.

  2. Avoiding Wasteful Investigation based on Prejudice or Bias: We all have preconceptions, including law enforcement officers. If a suspect or target happens to fall in a category law enforcement is more likely to, based on past experience, wrongfully accuse, early use of GPS tracking evidence is a good way to methodically either convict (pre-judging a person is wrong; judging on valid evidence is not only right, but just) or exonerate. Even someone who is prejudiced will have a harder time pursing a target where positive evidence shows the target was not near the scene of a crime, or any crime. While GPS evidence along may not convict, it will raise questions the innocent can answer, but the guilty have trouble with, narrow the investigation, and speed the resolution.

  3. Remove Incentives to Falsely Plant Evidence by Law Enforcement: Imagine you are a police officer, and on your belief and urging, dollars, resources, and time have been spent investigating a target. You push on, because each dollar spent might disclose a pile of physical evidence. Yet nothing turns up. You conclude you need more resources; which involves more dollars and time. You boss yells and tells you you'd better be right – promotions depend on it. Finally, you face the truth that there is no evidence that will show up, unless you make it. Because of the cost of the investigation, time, and effort, law enforcement by human nature will want to make something happen, and may be tempted to plant evidence, in order to justify the expense. Never mind that the enforcer has just become the criminal.

    Contrast that to a GPS evidence investigation- with probable cause, law enforcement gets, and abides by, a warrant for GPS tracking. If the tracking shows nothing, they at least attempt to renew the warrant. They can try again, if they feel the need, at a later time. Given the minimum amount of effort for the same investigation, there is little incentive to circumvent the system and “make something happen.” Officers, too, will know how effective GPS trackers are, and know that they, too, could be tracked if they move to the wrong side of the law or take advantage of their badge. GPS deterrence works on both sides of the judicial equation.

  4. Defense Resources – Although Public Defenders client's are not all innocent, some actually are innocent. If those clients are either victims of a fraudulent accusation or simply an innocent understanding, Public Defense (and private defense, if applicable) resources must be used to detect and defend against erroneous charges. Where law enforcement could confirm actual innocence before charging with GPS evidence, targets, and their attorneys, are forced to waste resources just to prove their innocence. Where the target is someone represented by a Public Defender, the pool of resources is limited. There are only so many attorneys to cover so many cases in so much time. True GPS evidence of innocence allows defense attorneys to concentrate resources on other cases, including those for those who are innocent, but don't have a GPS track to prove it.

  5. The Court System – If an objectively innocent investigation target gets into the judicial system, the system will handle it, either by a trial or by a plea. Trials take resources, many resources, from all the actors above. Those trials may have appeals, so more resources are spent. Trial of an objectively innocent person clearly works an injustice and distrust for the system, so the system suffers.

  6. The Penal System – Of course, not all who claim their innocence in jail are; but DNA testing has shown that some are wrongfully convicted and actually are innocent. Undoubtedly, there are others who a GPS track would have exonerated. Therefore, anyone who would be exonerated by GPS tracking evidence, and is objectively innocent, but wrongfully convicted and jailed, costs the system thousands of dollars to incarcerate – to punish a crime the target didn't commit and deter actions the target didn't do in the first place. This takes space that could be used for actual offenders that might end up with lessor punishments, because of prison overcrowding.

GPS evidence, therefore, can be the best friend of the innocent target, law enforcement and the Public defense sector, the judiciary, and the Penal system by proving actual innocence at the outset. But because this proof of innocence all happens with no fanfare, neither the press nor the public know what positive impacts GPS evidence has on the justice system.

1 comment:

  1. Hi all,

    GPS vehicle Tracker! Even someone who is prejudiced will have a harder time pursing a target where positive evidence shows the target was not near the scene of a crime, or any crime.


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