"Justice for All"
One of the most extensive users of computer database services has been the legal profession. The reasons are fairly straightforward. Attorneys were one of the first occupations to use personal computers in their offices. Most attorneys develop a field of expertise with their law practice which enables them to utilize arguments from previous cases that may be easily modified with computer programs such as Word Perfect to meet the needs of a current case. The briefs filed in court documents are categorized initially by the actual charge filed. Not only the prosecution but also the defense is based on known law and precedent setting trials. Law Schools, such as at the University of San Diego (USD), have used a computer database to teach their graduate students the relevant case histories and methods of researching data for over 15 years. Approximately ten years ago USD started selling their database to practicing attorneys. This service has grown in popularity so much that today virtually all law offices subscribe to one of the three large legal databases. (1. I contacted several legal firms to verify that this was the case.)
The service has an initial subscription fee and then a billing practice directly related to how well the request can be posed in terms of the database. If a case can be phrased to cite standardized parameters, then it is fairly easy to access the system and produce relevant case law. If the requesting legal office is unable to phrase its case in standard terminology (standard to the database they are accessing), then either a very broad generic set of citations will be offered, or the legal office will be notified and asked to either rephrase or pay the database service an hourly rate to do legal research for them.
Statement of the problem and research background
There are several problems with the extensive use of databases. First, although all legal disputes or violations of law are unique (individuals involved, time, event uniqueness), the access codification tends to require the case to be submitted in a more standardized form. Second, to the degree the case is submitted along current
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database cases, the opportunity for deciding the case in court is reduced. If the prosecutor and defense access the same database, they will receive the same results. This reduces the opportunity to try the case and hence many cases are plea bargained on the basis of the database history provided and not their individual uniqueness. Third, the cost of doing more research than the stereotyped cases provided is significant. Not only must the prosecutor and defense work to query the system more, but also they must pay the research time charged by the database provider. This makes it more difficult for people with limited financial resources to get a complete research of their particular case. Fourth, there is a tendency on all sides to funnel cases into a standardized form as they learn how to access the database most efficiently. (2. In fact there is a Miramar Community College Police Academy class that addresses how to write a DUII citation that will stand up to most court challenges. Consequently, most arrest reports will look very similar.) Over the years, professionals learn from using their tools. If the main tool is standardized, then their process of gathering information about their current case will tend to fit that standardization. (3. This could be a research project of its own; however, several lawyers have told me this is the case so I will take this statement as given.)
Hypothesis #1: Arrest reports which match an existing database profile will not be resolved through trails.
The database profiles appear as windows on the subscriberís computer screen. After logging on to the database, a legal service would follow help menus and screen prompts to the "driving under the influence" category. Within the category, several kinds of cases are described. If the arrest warrant data (why stopped, why arrested, breathe/urine/alcohol over .08) matches a case offered by the database, than the legal arguments for the typical case are offered. Essentially, if both the prosecution and defense receive the same data from their queries, they will find enough common ground and examples of cases that did go to trial to avoid the cost of separate trial for what the database presents as a resolved issue. This would be modified to the extent the
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standardized cases are still in dispute. However, both sides will have access to this data and consequently the plea bargain would be expected to reflect the prevailing case decisions.
Hypothesis #2: There will be a direct correlation between the income level of the parties involved and the sentence received independent of the arrest report. (4. E.g. the local judicial system has consistently ruled in favor of the local prosecution on DUIIs, but there have been successful higher level appeals. To the extent that this is true, the defense has the ability to say it will appeal and will try to negotiate a reduced charge for their client. If the client is represented by a public defender with a history of appealing, this could be a persuasive argument. If the client is middle class and has a private attorney, the plea bargain position might be weaker. (Source: several top attorney who request anonymity).
One of the most common violations of law is drunk driving. There is a great deal of uniformity in charges and defenses. Many lawyers have experience in representing drunk drivers and the USD database offers exhaustive examples of drunk driving cases.
Even the first conviction for drunk driving is harsh. First, the fine is $2,000. Second, two days of jail is mandatory. Third, suspension of license for three to six months is normal. Also the personís auto insurance may be canceled or will rise to twice or even three times the previous "good driver" rate. (5. Source: Farmers Insurance Company.) Beyond this, there is a social stigma connected with being a convicted drunk driver.
Arrest reports, initial charges, actual charges, plea bargaining and court records are all public documents. The USD legal service will be used to segregate the arrest reports into standardized examples. This will be done with the help of law students at USD. The arrest reports will be placed within a specific drunk driving profile as identified by the parameters of USDís database service. To ensure impartiality, the personís name, type of car, and address will be blacked out of each arrest report. The
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target population will be submitted to two different graduate students who will identify and group cases together. In case of a disagreement, a third graduate student will be used as an arbitrator. If they are unable to agree on an arrest profile which matches the database, that arrest report will be discarded and replaced.
The target population will be chosen from charges that were resolved in 1989. This will provide a current case load while also giving the appeal process time to be filed. Appeals that are filed and resolved by September 1991 will be kept as data. All other cases of appeals will be excluded from the research sample.
To exclude possible confounding variables, the cases chosen will be restricted to white males between 30 and 50 years of age with no previous convictions (for any misdemeanor or felony) who were arrested following a field sobriety test. Cases involving accidents or injury will be excluded. Only arrests occurring within San Diego city limits by San Diego police officers will be used. (6. For two reasons: first, to provide uniformity of report records both in numbering and officer training in filling out reports, second, to provide uniformity of district attorney and Municipal Court judges.)
The relative income of the accused will be established through three different mechanisms. First, was he/she represented by a private attorney? Second, the make, model and year of the car he/she was driving (part of the arrest record). Third, the personís home address (the arrest record). A real estate breakdown (provided by Century 21) of the county into regions with $50,000 increments, and a residential map can help in determining the value of the accusedís home. (7. The Tax Assessor can provide data on the accessed valutation of each residence. This is more time consuming and the effects of Proposition 13 make it easier to use the Century 21 boundaries.) What kind of attorney he/she can afford will be weighted twice the type of car driven. The residential area will be weighted twice as much as the kind of attorney. This will establish an approximate income bracket.
Although the data on driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII) is public information, there has been no breakdown on a basis of age, sex and race.
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However, informal sources (sheriffs, lawyers) indicate the number of arrests for the target population is in the thousands. To make the research fiscally possible and statistically accurate, a sample population of 100 will be used. Arrest warrants will be randomly selected (using a standard randomize program) until 100 are found that meet the age, sex and race requirements.
From this sample of arrest warrants, all relevant court documents will be ordered. The criminal record of each person will be in the court record. The people with previous convictions will be excluded and replaced through the same random process until a population that meets all the requirements of the study is attained.
The data will be entered as fields in a standard Ashton-Tate Dbase format. The Dbase program indexes each field to easily identify similar arrest reports and tabulate the remaining fields. In addition, the program offers the development of charts on the basis of any two variables.
The fields chosen are:
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become apparent so the arrest can be placed within a distinct category. Some of the anticipated key words will be why the person was stopped, odor of alcohol or marijuana, constricted pupils, and comments on the performance of the field sobriety test. (8. The arrest report contains the results of the standardized field sobriety test and a comments section, finished before the officer goes off duty.)
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The fields will establish a database, with the intent of grouping similarities together into the USD standardization. The cases that are grouped together will then be charted using the other variables listed above.
The hypothesis that easily classified arrest reports usually will not go to trial is expected to be supported by the data. The police arrest reports themselves should not vary in relation to the income level of these white males. However, once the arrest is made there are several options available to people who can afford attorneys and who are familiar with San Diego district attorneys and judges. The high income groups therefore may have an opportunity to keep the arrest from ever becoming a charge. If they are unable to do this, they might plea bargain more successfully than a low income person without sophisticated help. As a last resort, it would be expected that high income people would be more likely to insist on a trial and attempt to discredit the arrest report.
If income does have an effect on the outcome, it is anticipated that the lowers income levels will most often face the highest possible charge. Moreover, it is also anticipated that the actual conviction rate will be highest in this group. The effectiveness of private attorneys relative to public defenders might also be shown in the data.
Time and money
The USD graduate students estimate six hours of research to put the 100 arrest reports into groups representing the typical database profiles. At $20 per hour (the going rate) the cost for creating the arrest groups would be $120 times three students --- $360. Another method considered was using a lawyer who specializes in drunk driving cases; however, the minimum fee requested was $150 per hour with an estimate of three hours need for a total of $450.
The arrest reports might be gained through the Police Commission without charge, if the hypotheses are considered worth investigating. If not, the city charges $10 per hour for duplication fees and the number of hours would depend upon how many arrest reports are
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necessary to meet the requirements of the study. This is largely unknown; however, a data services person working for the City of San Diego says they could probably process (age, race, sex, DUII) 10 to 15 reports an hour. One difficulty is that DUIIs are not numbered separately from other arrest records. The random numbers chosen, therefore, might require looking through thousands of warrants before the target population is found. For a rough estimate, $1000 will be allocated to procuring the arrest records.
Once the arrest warrants are obtained, each individualís criminal record will be requested. A complete criminal record costs $7.50 per person. Anticipating that perhaps 25% of the people might have a misdemeanor or felony conviction prior to the DUII arrest, 130 criminal records might be needed to get the final 100 cases desired. 130 time $7.50 = $1,560.
The research and data processing time will be the equivalent of a three unit graduate course. If the researcher is an unpaid student, the estimated cost of this study would be $3,010.