Archive for the ‘Criminal’ Category
Per PRRN Member Judith Smith, the Executive Director of the San Luis Obispo Superior Court – Ms. Susan Matherly – has simply had enough. Ms. Matherly has had it with all the public record search firms hired by employers to check criminal records of local residents that apply for jobs. On March 14th she announced at a local Bar Association luncheon that she was shutting down the public access terminal to background screening firms. And on Monday March 19th she did it. TheIT staff removed the public access computer and put it in a locked room to be accessible only by attorneys and their investigators.
To better understand Ms. Matherly’s logic, consider the following summarized statements she also made at the March 14th luncheon, as reported by Ms. Smith:
The Sacramento County, California Sheriff has developed its own inmate release notification – Sheriff’s Inmate Release Elective Notification System (SIRENS) – that replaces the multi-agency VINELink (Victim Information and Notification) Everyday) program. The SIRENS service, like VINELink, will alert registered users by phone, text or email after a specified inmate is released. (See the SIRENS brochure for instructions.) Start by looking up the full name in the inmate search database.
Hopefully, VINELink won’t drop their Sacramento County incarcerated offender name search because it’s more flexible than the one at the Sheriff’s website. Both were functional today. The Sheriff’s site requires a full first name and full last name to find an inmate. That’s not helpful if you want to see everyone with the same last name — which you’ll want to do if you only have a nickname. Or maybe you want to see all of the possible relatives simultaneously incarcerated, right? The VINELink database can be searched with a partial first name AND a partial last name.
But these databases are better in tandem because the inmate information shown by the Sacramento Sheriff is more detailed. Alias’ and DOB’s are shown for those in custody and for released inmates, along with their release date. Because the date of birth is excised for out-of-custody inmates on VINELink you don’t know whether the “James Johnson’s” listed are the same person, or whether they are a match with those at the Sheriff’s site.
But neither site had private investigators in mind when they developed these tools.
Government agencies won’t put public records on the Internet but the former Santa Bernardino County Assessor found a technological runaround to making his emails a public record.
A private investigator and the former supervisor of the Worthless Check Division in the St.Tammany (Louisiana) District Attorney’s Office were sentenced to three years’ probation for buying and selling criminal information from the National Crime Information Center database. The DA employee got the heavier sentence — she also lost her job.
Nebraska Supreme Court ruling: Burial records from a state run cemetery are a public record. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) claimed that the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) applied because the cemetery was for residents at a former psychiatric hospital. But the court noted that HIPAA allows for the disclosure of protected health information when required by state law, and that Nebraska’s public records laws trumped HIPAA because these are death records, which are open records. Reported by RCFP.
Texas media, private investigators and genealogists are opposing the efforts of the Texas legislature to exempt the dates of birth of government employees from disclosure as a public record. The media has uncovered misdeeds by employees of the Texas Youth Commission — matching dates of birth with employee names — involving abuse of people and the public trust. Shielding dates of birth in public records does not protect the public from identity theft, as legislatures claim when attempting to carve out more public record exemptions.
Next week the U. S. District Court of California will issue the sentence for Lori Drew, the MySpace “cyberbully” who was convicted of violating the MySpace terms of service when she created a false profile. [See my article, Think Twice Before Going Undercover.] In that piece I talk about some of the considerations for the investigator who is tempted to fabricate an identity on a social networking site in order to gain access to a user’s otherwise private profile.
Here’s a legal issue to mull over. Perhaps this applies in other states, but in California, in criminal cases, the criminal defense investigator or prosecution investigator can’t interview a potential witness without first “clearly identifying himself or herself.” This is found in California Penal Code 1054.8:
1054.8. (a) No prosecuting attorney, attorney for the defendant, or investigator for either the prosecution or the defendant shall interview, question, or speak to a victim or witness whose name has been disclosed by the opposing party pursuant to Section 1054.1 or 1054.3 without first clearly identifying himself or herself, identifying the full name of the agency by whom he or she is employed, and identifying whether he or she represents, or has been retained by, the prosecution or the defendant. If the interview takes place in person, the party shall also show the victim or witness a business card, official badge, or other form of official identification before commencing the interview or questioning.
(b) Upon a showing that a person has failed to comply with this section, a court may issue any order authorized by Section 1054.5.
A violation could lead to the exclusion of the evidence obtained from that interview. Isn’t the investigator attempting to “interview, question, or speak” to a witness when the investigator accesses the witness’s non-public social network profile? The private profile requires the participants be accepted as “friends” and is a mouthpiece for the account holder to speak to her selected audience. The investigator who disguises his identity to pry open that witness’s cyber door could risk the exclusion of any evidence gathered through that pretext, as well as picking up a misdemeanor.
Wouldn’t it be convenient and a boon to cross-border investigations to be able to search an online index of Mexico court records? An Internet search for a source for these directs you to Westlaw, a collection of legal research and fact-finding databases, costly and beyond the financial reach of most investigators. Searchsystems.net now includes Mexico civil and criminal index filings from Mexican federal and state courts in its collection of premium (fee-based) databases. Anyone can access the service, but Searchsystems subscribers get a discount. A free name search will return the number of records found in the index, but no other details. Once you enter the subject’s name and pay the fee you’ll be able to view all matching records. The detailed results provide party names, jurisdiction, date, court, docket number and, in criminal filings, the charges. A limitation of the Mexico criminal record indexes, unlike most US ones, is that they don’t contain a defendant’s date of birth. Here’s a image from a search result, or view a sample report at Searchsystems.
Do you know of any other Mexico civil or criminal index databases online?
[2011 Update: This database is no longer at Search Systems because the vendor isn't making it available.]
Surprisingly, I wrote about crime mapping only once in 2008. That was about the efforts to track and map crime incidents at universities and included some tips for finding online crime map sites. CrimeReports, which I wrote about in 2007, is still chugging along, now with about 150 participating police departments just in California, where they have the most extensive representation.
Fewer agencies have data at CrimeMapping. Some of these agencies also display crime incidents on a map at their law enforcement site, which may be in a different format. An older program called CrimeViewCommunity has a site with a URL that points to CrimeMapping.com. But you may find a few additional law enforcement agencies using CrimeViewCommunity at their site whose crime incidents aren’t included in other crime mapping programs. For example, the Detroit Police Department uses CrimeViewCommunity but the map is hosted only at their site. Use the inurl modifier to find agencies with crime maps. You’ll notice that there is only a 30-90 day retention of incidents.