October 2019

California Drunk Driver and
Firearms Study

A recent study in California examined the risk of violence from legal handgun purchasers who had a prior driving under the influence conviction. A review of 79,678 records of handgun purchases (the purchasers studied were 91% male, 68.9% white, and most lived in urban areas) in 2001 revealed that within a thirteen-year follow-up period from the purchase, 9% of those buyers with prior convictions for driving under the influence, and 2% of the purchasers with no prior criminal history, “were subsequently arrested for murder, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault.”

The study found that 13,292 handgun purchasers (16.7%) in 2001 had a prior arrest or conviction when the firearm was purchased, 1,511 (1.9%) had a prior DUI conviction at the time of purchase, 95 purchasers (0.1%) had non-DUI alcohol-related convictions, and 7,663 (9.6%) of the purchasers had prior non-alcohol-related convictions. Purchasers with DUI convictions, and no non-DUI arrests or convictions, were found to have more than double the risk of a subsequent arrest for a violent crime than those with no DUI conviction. The majority (57.3%) of those studied who later committed a violent crime had both DUI and non-DUI convictions prior to purchasing the handgun. Those persons with only a DUI prior conviction, and no other criminal convictions before the handgun purchase, were found to be at an almost 3% greater risk of later committing a violent crime, in contrast to 0.5% of handgun buyers with no prior DUI conviction. “Compared with purchasers who had no prior criminal history, purchasers with only DUI convictions and no other criminal history had nearly three times the risk of arrest for firearm-related violent crime,” said Rose Kagawa, one of the study leaders and a researcher at the UC Davis Violence Prevention Program.

The researchers found no statistically significant interactions in the results between DUI history and race, ethnicity or sex, and found no “dose-response relationship between the number of prior DUI convictions and the risk of subsequent arrest” for a violent crime.

The researchers concluded that restricting persons convicted of DUI – as is done with those convicted of felonies, domestic violence, and other violent misdemeanors – from purchasing firearms might reduce the risk of future violent crime.

Sources:  Michael Finch II, “Drunk drivers more likely to commit violent gun crimes in California, study finds,” October 2, 2019:
Rose M. C. Kagawa, PhD, MPH; Susan Stewart, PhD; Mona A. Wright, MPH; et al, “Association of Prior Convictions for Driving Under the Influence With Risk of Subsequent Arrest for Violent Crimes Among Handgun Purchasers,” jamanetwork.com, September 30, 2019:

Robot Courts May Be on the Way

A recent article suggests that AI advancements over the next several years will lead to increasingly automated courts, and traditional positions, like paralegals and researchers, being eliminated. Judges and lawyers may not be immune from the developments. The article asks: “And if we have robot lawyers, why not automated judges and juries too? Why not a fully solid-state legal system?

Proponents suggest that automation may reduce bias inherent or implicit in human-based systems, and that the traditional, human jury may be outdated. “Flesh-and-blood jurors and judges will always bring their own prejudices into the courtroom,” the article notes. However, others note that AI can inherit biases from its human programmers and that an AI decision lacks transparency, nuance, and emotion. There is concern that an AI decision from a “biased” robot-judge may not be fully questioned. Additionally, there is a possibility that hackers could affect an automated process.

On the other hand, psychological research suggests that human witnesses tend to give more truthful and direct responses when answering questions posed by a robot, rather than a human.

Sources:  Michael Moran, “Robot judges 'will pass sentence with no human bias' in AI courts,” dailystar.co.uk, October 19, 2019:
Rossalyn Warren, “Arguments for and against the robot jury,” raconteur.com, October 10, 2019:

Sex Offender Program in the U.K. May
Have Made Things Worse

A prison sex-offender program in use in the UK from the early 1990s until 2017 was found to have increased the risk of reoffending. The Sex offender Treatment Programme (SOTP) was terminated after studies showed that those offenders who had participated in the program were at a 10% risk of reoffending, while those persons who had not participated in the program were at an 8% risk of reoffending.

A new program, the Healthy Sex Programme (HSP), is expected to yield more positive results. The HSP provides more emotional support for sex offenders living in a community environment, and one-to-one sessions, instead of group sessions – with mixed offenders ranging from murderers to rapists to flashers – are utilized.

One prisoner described the SOTP group sessions as an environment where the talk continuously focused on sexual behaviors, and he had “never had so many deviant sexual thoughts as [he’d] had since [he] started.” Also, prisoners recounting in detail, as required in SOTP, experiences of abuse suffered as children to groups containing pedophiles served only to arouse the pedophiles. Some prisoners who had completed the SOTP program and had been released found they had a false sense of confidence that they had been “fixed” or healed.

Sources:  Danny Shaw, “Sex offender: 'I've never had so many deviant thoughts',” bbc.com, October 8, 2019:

USA Today Study on Police Misconduct
and Prosecution Brady Violations

An investigation by the USA Today Network, conducted over the period of one year and done in collaboration with the Invisible Institute, found that at least 300 prosecutors’ offices across the country are not in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court mandate of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) – that prosecutors must turn over to the defense exculpatory evidence – by failing to keep, maintain, or to turn over lists of untrustworthy or credibility-challenged police officers.

The investigative reporters spoke with dozens of prosecutors and police officials; two prosecutors subsequently promised to amend policies to be more Brady-compliant. The investigators received 27 denials to their requests for information; 316 offices did not keep a Brady-list; 48 reported no disclosable officers were on lists; and 52 offices provided lists. Twenty counties in Michigan were queried, and the reporters found that none had “Brady-lists.”

The report cited the example of Baltimore, where the State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby required that police officers who were to be witnesses in a case disclose internal affairs investigations. Since 2018, the state attorney’s office has been reviewing at least 25 police officers due to misconduct charges, and prosecutors have asked courts to vacate almost 800 convictions involving either testimony of investigations by those officers.

The reporters noted that, “Legal scholars have generally interpreted the rulings [Brady and subsequent decisions] as a requirement that prosecutors create a list of officers with credibility problems. But there is no comprehensive rule for what kind of behavior lands an officer on a list and few repercussions for police and prosecutors who flout the requirement.” The report stated that the reporters obtained training materials from Miami-Dade that show “prosecutors being taught legal tactics to avoid disclosing officers’ histories.” The presentation materials point out that the defense has the burden of proof. A spokesperson for the Miami-Dade prosecutor denied that the presentation provided instruction on avoiding disclosure of Brady material. Pace Law School Professor Bennett Gershman was quoted as saying that the burden is on prosecutors, and the law leans heavily toward disclosure. “It’s dishonest if that’s the way they’re presenting the obligation of Brady … If you're putting a witness on the stand – whoever the witnesses, but particularly a police officer – and you have doubts about his credibility, doesn't that raise a question of whether you're prosecuting a guilty or an innocent person?” Professor Gershman also noted that failing to disclose Brady materials “is not a game to be won,” but is a duty required to protect the integrity of the court system.

The study noted that the National Registry of Exonerations shows that, since 1988, 987 people have been convicted and later exonerated in cases where there had been a combination of “misconduct by prosecutors and perjury or a false report by police and other witnesses.” The defendants in those cases served an average of 12 years in prison. In 2008, there were 48 exonerations in cases involving “government misconduct”; in 2018, there were 112 such exonerations.

Sources:  Steve Reilly and Mark Nichols, “Hundreds of police officers have been labeled liars. Some still help send people to prison,” usatoday.com, October 17, 2019:
Miami-Dade training slides:

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor