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Judges refuse to order fix for court software that put people in jail by mistake (arstechnica.com)
341 points by kyleblarson on June 29, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments

Obviously a case of not enough wealthy people being affected. If the poor are falsely imprisoned its just business as usual and they lack the clout to hire an aggressive talented attorney. This will likely rectify itself as soon as a substantially wealthy individual is imprisoned improperly.

Just a continuation of the sad state of our legal system where punishment is not so much an issue of guilt but of wealth or more specifically the lack thereof.


In Alameda County I think this is more a problem of a court system which puts itself above the people. there are numerous stories out there about problems in that county. this includes spending nearly a hundred fifty million on a new court house and support buildings and then chopping the staff to handle cases from nearly a thousand to under seven hundred. So you have all this out lay for shiny new buildings and then the people in the same part of funding get cut.

throw in the courts, even appellate courts, do not like ruling against a judge and its harder to see it happen over a question that does not pertain to an individual case.

all of this budget cutting of staff to work the courts is fascinating but expected in a state that is nearly run by its police public service union. they are big money and getting people in the system is priority there. hence attempts to fix or slow that can be stymied with little public outrage

>state that is nearly run by its police public service union.

don't forget the prison guard union. That one is probably most powerful in the state, and naturally plays the same side with the police union.

Also, am I correct in understanding that private prisons earn more profit if they have more inmates? So someone stands to make less money if less people go to prison. Any connection there or am I blowing things out of proportion?

frequently the private prison contract contains minimum occupancy guarantees (like 80-100%). Thus government has to either send people to prison no matter what or to face the politically tricky situation when taxpayers' money would be openly wasted on non-occupied "beds".

What could possibly go wrong, with rules like this? /s

> Any connection there or am I blowing things out of proportion?

This police and prison guards' unions are why California had the "three strikes" law in the first place. So yes, there is a direct connection.

I believe that that is the status quo, or something similar. But I read recently about a different model where prisons get bonuses for reducing recidivism; I can't remember where it is being set up, and don't exactly have faith in private run things like this, but it's a step in the right direction.

You're right. And if anything, you're understating the conflict of interest: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kids_for_cash_scandal

Seems it was more a case of the plaintiff not having standing.

"plaintiff not having standing" is one of the biggest bullshit aspects of American law. Unjust laws sit on the books being used to threaten and intimidate people, and only until some with the money, gall and the lack of anything to lose does a law get challenged. This person also needs to get charged under this law, which often not the case. The Justice System, knowing the rules, tries to never expose itself to a potential challenger.

1) Laws should pass a constitutional court before being put into place.

2) Anyone should be able to challenge a law. Period. Of course, those "with standing" should have more weight. But many clearly unconstitutional laws stand simply because of a lack of standing.

I think the op's point was that plaintiffs with standing can't afford to seek a legal remedy.

So is this being treated as a civil matter? To me this seems more like the kind of thing the prosecutor's office should pursue.

Punishment/containment systems like jails, fines, etc., have always worked this way, and history tells you it will never stop. If anything it has gotten better since, way, 1700's, where the rich simply were the law.

>Even if there was standing, the plaintiffs did not establish that they would “suffer harm or prejudice in a manner that cannot be corrected on appeal.” “They also fail to show that they lack an adequate remedy at law, as they may move for correction of erroneous records at any time,” the 1st District continued.

Civil and criminal Courts are intentionally blind to the cost, suffering and disruption the process inflicts. It should be obvious that filing an appeal and moving to correct records is expensive at a minimum, and hugely disruptive to people struggling to survive, support families, etc. It may be easier and cheaper to simply do time for alleged offenses, innocent or not.

Its appalling. @wonderwonder's comment is on target.

That's not what it is about. The judge basically said that the public defender couldn't bring suit because he was never harmed by said system. For this to go forward, he would need to find someone who was jailed or labeled a sex offender incorrectly, and have them bring suit. That is the heart of the statement.

The heart of the statement is that he is denied standing on public interest grounds because they dug up a case law that effectively nullified public interest ground exception which comes from u.s. code.

Now if he is to proceed further, he needs to find ground to bust that case law and an insane legal doctrines it is based on

The really messed up part is that you can't just point out a problem and get it fixed, you have to actually sue the state to get them to fix it. This problem is sending people to jail wrongfully, and we know it, but we won't fix it unless you find someone with standing to sue, then sue and win.

(Until such time, of course, everyone affected can get f'ed.)

Why do you say "you can't just point out a problem and get it fixed?" There is nothing about the legal system that precludes a political solution to this problem.

The real problem is not the legal system, but the fact that the people of Alameda County are bad people (collectively, not individually) and have elected a government full of bad people. You're asking the court system to try to overcome a moral deficit in the political system (and ultimately, in voters).

You're not wrong, they're obviously (some of them, at least) bad people. I didn't fault the system specifically. You shouldn't need to issue and complete a legal challenge to get wrongs righted, but here we are.

I don't know how much you can really blame the voters, though. First-past-the-post is a large part of the problem, too. People want to make sure you're not a Republican before they vote for you, so you'd better make sure you be a Democrat! /s (or vice versa.)

Meanwhile, of course, the lobbyists are lined up with the checkbook out on both sides of the aisle.

I agree with you in regards to people voting in bad actors, ultimately though a major function of the legal system is to protect the few from the tyranny of the many. The legal system is failing here.

> The heart of the statement is that he is denied standing on public interest grounds because they dug up a case law that effectively nullified public interest ground exception which comes from u.s. code.

Nope; while the court elected not to use it's discretion to allow public interest standing, there were a stack of other reasons for denial cited that would have meant denial even had the court exercised it's discretion to allow public interest standing. Which is why they didn't do it: no court willl exercise that kind of discretion unless the issue affected by that discretion is decisive.

Both the judge and the article thought the "Even if there was standing..." question worth talking about. It sounds like you're trying to quash discussion on anything other than standing.

Both standing and particularized harm are questions the court (properly) addressed in the context of the actual plaintiff (the public defender), not hypothetical plaintiffs that are situated differently.

There were also a whole host of other procedural issued cited in denying the appeal (including that it's an appeal, but the specific remedies claimed and the entities against whom they are claimed weren't argued properly in the trial court), in the non-exhaustive list of reasons for denial provided by the court.

Assuming the court isn't blatantly misrepresenting the procedural history, it looks like the plaintiff did, almost literally, everything possible wrong procedurally.

OTOH, I have to wonder if the intent isn't really to get the court to issue an order but to get headlines and media attention to force Alameda County to fix the problem.

I guess it must be legally valid because a judge said it, but how does that make sense?

One could even argue that the public defender's clients were affected, this impacting him.

The "standing" limitations are a relatively common and long-standing feature in the US legal system. If someone's dog barks in the night, and you live absolutely nowhere nearby but you dislike the person, should you personally be allowed to launch a lawsuit against them as a nuisance?

Unfortunately this can lead to a catch-22, where you statistically know that people are being harmed, but without a lawsuit you can't identify specific people, and without specific people you can't launch a lawsuit. I feel that something like what happened with some of the government spying stuff in the last decade or so.

I get the dog analogy but this technique for correcting a flaw would be deemed idiotic in almost every other setting. Imagine a software developer not being able to fix bugs until a user reported it, or an airplane designer not correcting a stress joint mispecification until a plane crashed, or a police force not firing a rogue officer until a citizen complained, sued and won.

> I feel that something like what happened with some of the government spying stuff in the last decade or so.

I can't find the story, but there have been a lot of people who wanted to sue as victims of PATRIOT ACT spying, but who couldn't because they couldn't actually prove they'd been spied upon. The lawyer for one such person was accidentally sent papers by the government (as part of a larger, intentional shipment of relevant papers) acknowledging such spying had occurred, but (I think) FBI agents showed up at his door the next day and demanded their return.

> One could even argue that the public defender's clients were affected

One could argue that, but then those clients, not the PD, should be bringing the suit.

The bit rrggrr is complaining about is underneath «even if we assume that petitioners have adequately demonstrated standing».

What is stopping the people who are paying for the system that is broken, from doing something about it?

They don't care that it's broken.

The problem affects poor and indigent people, it doesn't affect anyone with wealth or political influence. In fact, fixing it would cost them more, so they would be inclined to leave it.

Nothing really, except the slow moving bulk of bureaucracy and the fact that changing systems again would be a huge expensive task even just to go back to the old system, given that the old system has none of the current cases and may have been entirely removed.

"the public defender’s office has filed approximately 2,000 motions informing the court that, due to its reportedly imperfect software, many of its clients have been forced to serve unnecessary jail time, be improperly arrested, or even wrongly registered as sex offenders."

There's the metric. Maybe there's a law firm that's willing to sue on behalf of all of these people. Surely the hassle of that lawsuit would push them to change, and those defendants would have standing.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13069775 was posted as the nature of the problem began to occur, and has many interesting discussion on the underlying problems involved.

In any normal jurisdiction, a prima facie mistrial would've resulted in an automatic disqualification and disbarment of a presiding judge.

America admits no legal liability of court employees over anything except gross miscariage of justice, and even for such cases Americans invented insane legal theories that let few judges walk away from charges ranging from corruption and bribery to selling "freedom for blowjob"

Push for personal liability of judges in mistrials and violations of court protocols

> normal jurisdiction

What is this "normal jurisdiction" you speak of? The jurisdiction most people are in?

China, India, U.S.?

Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan?

Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia?

Mexico, Japan, Ethiopia?

Philippines, Egypt, Vietnam?


Disingenuous.. do you always compare the united states with developing economies for everything ? They are all less than 100 years old as independent countries . with europe or other mature democracies would be better context for normal surely?

Even these countries do not have 25 % world 's incarcerated population.. US legal system has a problem whether you admit it or not

Seeking for "normal", I just took the top 15 most populous countries, representing two-thirds of the entire human race.

Maybe by "normal" you meant "ideal". Or maybe you meant "where I live". But if "normal" means "usual", I think you are wrong.

The law does allow for all of these people serving extra days in confinement to seek financial damages for each day. It seems to me like a civil attorney could file boiler plate lawsuits for each of these people, since the underlying facts in each case are nearly identical. Besides the money that both the attorney and his clients would enjoy, that would be by far the fastest route to getting this fixed. It will stay broken until it hits the county in the wallet.

How about if the two names of sitting judges are added to the list,one appellate judge and one supreme court judge. I am confident the software will be fixed.

Actual arguments used by the judge: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3514379-Order-Denyin...

From a brief reading, it seems like the complaint is delays/errors in document entry by clerks (like updates to probation terms or bail postings) and that the search interface isn't connected with other databases.

Just sounds like confusing software, or users that haven't been trained to use it. However, it's not clear if it's causing more or less clerical errors than the last system they had.

As a legal assistant in Illinois, which will start using this software statewide by the end of the year (excluding Cook and some other counties, which adopted other software), this is troubling news.

Unit tests, while not the prescription for everything, do tend to be important in some domains.

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