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The Courts Government News Technology

You Are Not a Lawyer 693

Paul Ohm is starting a new "very occasional" feature on the Freedom To Tinker blog called You Are Not a Lawyer — "In this series, I will try to disabuse computer scientists and other technically minded people of some commonly held misconceptions about the law (and the legal system)." In the first installment, Ohm walks through the reasons why many techies' faith in the presence of "reasonable doubt" is so misplaced. "When techies think about criminal law, and in particular crimes committed online, they tend to fixate on [the 'beyond a reasonable doubt'] legal standard, dreaming up ways people can use technology to inject doubt into the evidence to avoid being convicted. I can't count how many conversations I have had with techies about things like the 'open wireless access point defense,' the 'trojaned computer defense,' the 'NAT-ted firewall defense,' and the 'dynamic IP address defense.' ... People who place stock in these theories and tools are neglecting an important drawback. There are another set of legal standards — the legal standards governing search and seizure — you should worry about long before you ever get to 'beyond a reasonable doubt.'"
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You Are Not a Lawyer

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  • Re:Ohm's Law? (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheRedSeven ( 1234758 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:14PM (#26801463) Homepage
    Since it's already /.'ed, here's the Google Cache [] so you can at least read the text.
  • Re:Reasonable Doubt. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:29PM (#26801769) Homepage Journal

    Could be worse, Japan's [wikipedia.org] is 99.97%.

    Conviction rate comparison [wordpress.com]

    China is 98%

    The USA is listed as 65-80% because statistics are mostly state level.

    Therefore, either we're really good at identifying people, or "reasonable doubt" has become unreasonably weak defense.

    Or you're using made up statistics.

  • Re:Reasonable Doubt. (Score:4, Informative)

    by ya really ( 1257084 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:33PM (#26801853)

    From the DOJ:

    Cases were terminated against 86,680 defendants during 2005. Most (90%) defendants were convicted. Of the 78,042 defendants convicted, 74,226 (or 95%) pleaded guilty or no-contest.

  • by Zordak ( 123132 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:33PM (#26801861) Homepage Journal
    (Shameless plug for my own GPL paper. [jw.com] With good examples! I send it to my clients all the time. Bottom line: the GPL is not simple. And this doesn't even include the v.3 stuff.)
  • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:43PM (#26802087)

    Doing some simple math with those statistics, they tell us that if you don't plead guilty, there is a 70% chance you will get off. (Either the charges are dropped, or the DOJ loses in the courtroom.)

    From those stats, I'd say it is possible our justice system is fairly healthy.


  • by TenDollarMan ( 1307733 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:44PM (#26802109) Homepage

    I'm a lawyer, and I'm getting a kick out of these replies, etc.

    A technique that defence lawyers use is to attack the legitimacy of the gathering of the evidence. Succeed there, and it all becomes inadmissible, and the prosecution fails.

    Never mind your fucking Venn diagrams.

    That, I believe, settles the matter.

  • Re:Thank You!!!!! (Score:3, Informative)

    by chromatic ( 9471 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:44PM (#26802119) Homepage

    The JD is a doctoral degree.

  • My best advise (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mr_Blank ( 172031 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @03:53PM (#26802321) Journal

    Do. Not. Talk. To. Cops.
    Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8z7NC5sgik [youtube.com]
    Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08fZQWjDVKE [youtube.com]

        This takes an hour to watch, but well worth your time. In these videos a lawyer and then a cop explain very clearly why talking to cops never works in your favor. Watch it. Learn it. Live it.

        As far as the article is concerned: He is bringing up old news that being put through the legal wringer will cost you time, money, and reputation in the community that you can not get back - even if you are innocent and/or found innocent. The best bet is to not do the crime (though if you watch the videos you will see that it is just about impossible to avoid breaking all laws).

        Good luck.

  • Re:Ohm's Law? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Beardo the Bearded ( 321478 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @04:03PM (#26802509)

    As part of an engineering education, you take one course in law. Basically, it's an overview of contract law, the legal system, various appeals you can go through, etc. The idea is to make you realize that lawyers go through as much or more schooling as engineers do (often more), they go through an articling phase, and they're professionals at what they do.

    You wouldn't get a lawyer to design a bridge, so don't try to get a "techie" to answer legal questions.

    If you've got a legal question, ask your attorney. If you don't have one, get one on retainer.

    If the police ask you questions, the only appropriate answer is "My lawyer's name is ____."

  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @05:34PM (#26804139) Journal

    the Jurisdiction was stupid enough to let their public officials have search warrants with a presumption of innocence

    The only test for a search warrant is that there's enough evidence to justify collecting more evidence. Something fishy happening with "your" IP address certainly clears that bar: a reasonable person would conclude that the most likely explanation was that it was your computer, and therefore your computer should be searched for futher evidence.

    The police aren't supposed to wait for conclusive evidence of guilt before searching - how would that even work?

    If you want to sue the police for harassing you, it's up to you to prove that the police crossed the line, knowingly or as the result of gross negligence.

  • Re:Ohm's Law? (Score:5, Informative)

    by snspdaarf ( 1314399 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @06:28PM (#26805047)
    You do the same thing you do when you need a doctor and are new in town. You ask people, you look at the specialty of the professional in question, and you call for an appointment. You do not have to have a lawyer on retainer at all times. Many times a first visit is free, so if you get a bad vibe from a lawyer, or don't feel like they are listening to your concerns, try another. While I would not want a patent lawyer defending me in criminal court, if I was arrested and the only lawyer I knew was a patent lawyer, I would call him and ask for help getting the right kind.
  • Re:Ohm's Law? (Score:2, Informative)

    by prestonmichaelh ( 773400 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @07:08PM (#26805607)

    While I would not want a patent lawyer defending me in criminal court, if I was arrested and the only lawyer I knew was a patent lawyer, I would call him and ask for help getting the right kind.

    I would second this. I have a family friend that is a malpractice lawyer (defends doctors). Since I am not a doctor, I have no use for his services pretty much ever. Last year, however, my aunt died and we needed a probate lawyer, so we asked him. Sure enough, he knew several and even had one working in his firm. It seems to me that, much like doctors, most lawyers are specialists these days. The downside is that there is rarely no "one-size-fits-all" lawyer, but typically, if you can find even one lawyer your trust/like, then if you need something that is not in their specialty, they can recommend someone who does specialize in what you need.

  • Re:Ohm's Law? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @08:35PM (#26806717)

    Depends on what kind of lawyer you want. Usually you're looking for an attorney of some kind.

    Probably looking at a minimum of $500 to retain an attorney for general defense.

    Specialists, that's another kettle of fish. And of course it just depends on the lawyer.

    Try the yellow pages, just call and ask them.

    As for the competency, check with your local Bar Association, and ask the specific firm for referrals from former clients. Many of them have some type of 'resume' of case histories they'll give you for review.

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan