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Archive for the ‘Media Trends’ Category

The Electronics and Communications Privacy Act: It’s So 1986

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

In 1986, the year the Electronics and Communications Privacy Act (EPCA) was created, the Dewey Decimal System was the closest research tool we had to a Google Search Engine. Crumpled road maps, not GPS systems, helped drivers navigate the roads. Privacy laws are stuck in the snail-mail era, while millions of e-mails, texts and social media messages are exchanged largely unprotected. As privacy continues to be a concern in our electronic world, the 25-year-old EPCA could be getting a much-needed update, offering Americans important protection for their online communications.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee recently introduced the EPCA Amendent Act, a bill that would require the government to obtain a warrant before searching private e-mails and data stored on an Internet cloud. Calling the EPCA outdated, Leahy claims federal privacy laws must keep up with rapid changes in technology and law enforcement missions post-911. The bill also removes the 180-day rule that only requires a warrant to search e-mails that are unopened and stored for less than 180 days.

Privacy continues to be challenged, such as when the FBI collected 2,000 names and phone records between 2002-2006 claiming the calls being made related to possible terrorism emergencies. Or when Bradford Councilman, former vice president of then online bookseller Interloc, directed employees to write code that saved communications between customers and Amazon.com. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cautions that allowing law enforcement broad access to electronic records in the name of ‘cybersecurity’ is unwise.

Does Society Benefit From Blocked Careers?

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Which is safer: denying ex-cons a job in their chosen profession or having them gainfully employed? The Austin American Statesman explores this issue here.

Each year the debate continues as ex-offenders with criminal pasts are denied state licenses to work as doctors, nurses, barbers, roofers, foundation repairmen, parts recyclers, court interpreters, locksmiths, security guards, plumbers, elevator inspectors, boxing match timekeepers, commercial dog or cat breeders and more than 100 other occupations (nearly a third of the Texas workforce) by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

According to The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, each applicant is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and denial for one license for one occupation doesn’t necessarily automatically guarantee denial for another one.

As access to these career fields continue to be blocked, the economy isn’t making things any easier as state legislators such as Republican Florence Shapiro, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, claims the money the state spends each year on the Windham School District, the public school system for prisoners, should be eliminated. Shapiro thinks it’s the biggest waste of money she’s seen.

The question remains: If rehabilitating people is part of reintegrating them into society, how is this possible when they cannot land a job?

Silencing the Twitter

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Most potential jurors understand and are familiar with the traditional rule that jurors are sworn to silence during criminal trial proceedings. It’s common knowledge that they aren’t allowed to discuss the case with fellow jurors, witnesses or lawyers. Jurors are supposed to keep an open mind until all the evidence and arguments are presented, which means that watching newscasts, listening to radio broadcasts and reading newspaper articles that might give them a biased view of the case is out of the question. Unless you somehow missed these basic juror requirements in your middle school civics class, these rules are a given.

But electronic communication devices have eased into our social consciousnesses, commenting on everyday occurrences from the sidelines. These devices, media tools and social networking sites spew information, making it very difficult to keep a balanced view with all of the information flying around. Cell phones, Twitter, e-mail, Facebook, YouTube, iPhones, BlackBerry smartphones, text messaging and blogs have completely transformed how information is spread.

Catching up to the times, the Judicial Conference of the United States has released these gadget use rules to the federal judiciary to be included in juror instructions in order to curb all the twittering.

State courts continue to set their own jury instructions.

Will the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole Be Incarcerated?

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Could Texas Board of Pardons and Parole officers find themselves in jail for contempt of court because they have failed to comply with a U.S. District Judge’s order?

Raul Meza, 50, was convicted of murder in the 1982 killing of 8-year-old Kendra Page at a Southeast Austin elementary school playground. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and later received another four years for possessing a weapon while in prison. While Meza was never convicted of a sex crime, his lawyers said during his trial that he admitted to sexually assaulting Kendra. Read more here.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel found that before instituting sex offender restrictions, state officials must follow certain procedures including alerting a defendant of allegations, offering an opportunity to attend an evidenciary hearing and providing a written final decision including detailed reasons. Last year, the board unanimously decided that Meza “constitutes a threat to society by his lack of sexual control,” but they did not give specific reasons for their decision. Hence, Yeakel’s contempt of court ruling.


Sunday, February 13th, 2011

According to two recent studies, using sophisticated technology might raise juror expectations (The BlackBerry effect) more than watching the popular television show: Crime Show Investigation (CSI), also nicknamed the CSI effect.

Judge Donald Shelton, the chief judge of Washnew County in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wanted to determine whether jurors believed crimes could be solved with extravagant technologies (by well-groomed investigators with an accompanying hip soundtrack) in a magical 60-minute timeframe. The study proved that frequent CSI watchers expected more evidence to be presented, but those expectations didn’t translate into a prerequisite for conviction.

The second study found that the more sophisticated the jurors were in their technology use, the more they expected prosecutors to present scientific evidence, such as DNA, fingerprint and ballistic evidence. Is it that these jurors are more educated or have their BlackBerrys have made them more critical thinkers?

The studies asked these questions:

  1. Do jurors expect prosecutors to present scientific evidence?
  2. Do jurors demand scientific evidence as a condition for a guilty verdict?
  3. Are juror expectations and demands for scientific evidence related to watching law-related television shows?

So, CSI is simply entertaining, and doesn’t affect a juror’s overall expectations of the criminal justice system. Maybe these studies will convince prosecutors to curtail meaningless tests and fancy animation, just to show technology in use?

Learn more about Shelton’s studies on the ABA’s website.