MA high court: no privacy in recent call list

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that police do not need a warrant to search the cell phone call history of a person arrested in connection with a crime. The court ruled that police have long been allowed under the Constitution to search for evidence of a crime on the person and their belongings when the person is in custody.

“The limited search of the recent call list on the defendant’s cellular telephone was permissible under both the Fourth Amendment and [Article 14]’’ of the state’s Declaration of Rights...” The list of calls made from a cell phone therefore has no expectation of privacy in that setting.

The court specifically left open the question of whether, if the phone seized had capabilities of storing text messages, emails, browser histories and photographs, those data troves are also searchable without a warrant: “We do not suggest that the assessment necessarily would be the same on different facts, or in relation to a different type of intrusion into a more complex cellular telephone or other information storage device.’’

Other state courts have gone the other way on this question and a Supreme Court ruling will be needed to clarify the growing murk. The Mass. case is COMMONWEALTH vs. Demetrius A. PHIFER. SJC-11242 and full text is found here

Body language and lie detection

Here at the office, the staff has become quite adept at looking into people’s eyes and telling when they are lying. Not the sort of thing that makes you popular at parties, and poker games tend to devolve into bloodbaths, but lie detection comes in handy in the detective business.

The Center for Nonverbal Studies Gestures in Spokane WA has compiled a dictionary of Signs & Body Language Cues to get you started. Final exam will be reading the face of Bill Belichick.

Subpoena to Google, Yahoo and others

As we field more calls on electronic discovery, recall that federal law prohibits electronic communication services from disclosing “contents of a communication” [18 USC § 2702] which most courts deem to be the text of the email or text message. Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and Linkedln as well as email providers such as Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail all fall in the this category.

A criminal subpoena may get you even the content of messages (and we get this material either from the electronic communication service providers -- or from the prosecutor) . However in a civil case, you can subpoena only basic information such as the name of the user of the account and other identifiers.

A court in Connecticut also explored a new avenue: divorcing parties may be ordered to exchange Facebook and dating site login and passwords.

Crime fiction Telegraph Hill is released

Delighted to announce my crime novel, Telegraph Hill, was selected to be one of the featured books in the launch of www.libboo.com, a new eBook publishing venture.
Book reviews are here.

If you enjoy noir crime novels in the vein of Dennis Lehane, James Lee Burke, and Raymond Chandler, feel free to stop by and take advantage of special pricing-- all for less than a mocha coffee, or 2 beers at your local dive bar. You can also preview it with a free download.

Subpoenas and court orders to Facebook

We continue to get questions on what records can be obtained by subpoena or court order to Facebook. Generally, only a criminal case subpoena or court order will result in Facebook complying. In that case, we have seen all kinds of data turned over: photos, wall posts, photos uploaded to a page, lists of Facebook friends. Perhaps most intriguing and helpful is login and IP address data--which can be linked to physical addresses in some other private databases that we (and most PIs) subscribe.

Note that while these subpoena’s are most often sent by law enforcement, a defendant is entitled to the same data (just not in expedited fashion like an on-going investigation might require).

According to Facebook’s Law Enforcement and Third-Party Matters (not easily found on the site, in Facebook’s typical sloppy manner): “Federal law prohibits Facebook from disclosing user content (such as messages, timeline posts, photos, etc.) in response to a civil subpoena. Specifically, the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq., prohibits Facebook from disclosing the contents of an account to any non-governmental entity pursuant to a subpoena or court order.”

Massachusetts medical malpractice

The state of Massachusetts recently passed a health care bill that has an intriguing medical malpractice angle: the disclosure, apology and offer clause, which prompts health care providers to give information to patients about medical errors in a timely manner and offers a timeframe for an apology and offer of damages. An apology has been shown to be an incredibly important part to a process that too often lacks any emotional depth. One intriguing section in the bill might be an area for future litigation: a doctor's (or hospital’s) apology is inadmissible in future court proceedings unless the doctor says something later that contradicts the apology.

Wrongful convictions and Chicago Police-

Good piece on National Registry of Exonerations report that shows Cook County, Illinois leads the nation in documented wrongful convictions. The great majority of those cases -- 67 since 1986 -- were handled by the Chicago Police Department.

As the article notes, “That’s a number to be ashamed of. There are 67 cases in which the Chicago Police collected "evidence" of serious wrongdoing against a person who turned out to be innocent....More shocking still is this fact: the Chicago Police Department has never conducted an investigation, filed disciplinary charges or imposed discipline on a single police officer for negligence or any other form of wrongdoing in a single one of these cases. (Chief) Gerry McCarthy and his predecessors just don't care.”

Misguided CORI reform

Massachusetts today unveiled its new iCORI system for criminal background data. According to the Boston Globe, some community groups want to cut off access to this data, citing problems with investigators who go to courthouses and obtain original records with additional information about the crimes.

These groups are attacking the very procedures recommended under federal law and by industry experts to avoid mistakes in background checks. In effect they want to ban users of iCORi who search out original documents. In effect, they want to forced employers to act on a dry sparse records for fear that, say details about, say a habitual offender who seems to prey on women, should come to light.

Forensic experts: a pervasive lack of national standards

This article sums up the problem with the lack of national standards for forensic experts. While organizations like American College of Forensic Examiners International Inc. purport to test forensic experts, according to the article many of these “colleges” award certificates after testers take brief online examinations--sometimes written by people with no background in the field: According to the article:

“Other former employees said it was routine for low-level staffers to write exams for ACFEI and its related organizations based on textbooks in subject areas in which they had no expertise.

Tania Miller worked for six months as chief association officer for the American Psychotherapy Association, an ACFEI sister group, beginning in fall 2010. A few weeks into her job, she said, she was asked to author an exam to certify forensic counselors. Miller's background was in marketing and graphic design. She said she declined to write the exam. ACFEI did not respond to questions about Miller.”

This situation highlights why competent lawyers always conduct a full background examination of any expert, testing credentials, no matter how old.

Client acquitted in Mattapan case

Acquittal in murder case: After 15 months of intensive defense investigation, a jury found our client not guilty on all charges in the murders of four people, including a two-year-old boy and his mother, during a robbery in September 2010. The Boston Globe and Boston Herald reported on the intense pressure facing families of both the victims and accused during the 6 week trial.

The defense investigation focused on the role of Kimani Washington, a career criminal whose story about participating in the armed robbery but leaving the scene before the murders, never made sense to most court observers. Eyewitness accounts described a silver/gray SUV with blue license plate driven by a bald headed man racing from the scene -- a match to Kimani and a Ford Edge he stole from a victim. Moreover, Kimani’s story changed repeatedly. Evidence showed he held a grudge against his cousin Edward Washington and had slashed his face with a cane--a stark contrast to his description of their relationship as “beautiful”. Defense lawyers Jack Cunha and Helen Holcomb were able to use the evidence to thoroughly impeach Kimani at trial. They also pointed to mistakes such as the Boston Police arresting Kimani just a few hours after the murders, holding keys to a silver SUV--but incredibly, failing to test him for gunpowder residue. Photos of the SUV were taken by some of the police-controlled security cameras dotting Mattapan, but they were not preserved by police.

Kimani later fled to New Hampshire where he was arrested. This case illustrated most graphically the problem with rewarding a cooperating witness of Kimani’s ilk with a deal that cut decades off a prison sentence for murder, if he had faced a jury.

Reduce your Massachusetts alimony payments


Massachusetts reputation as the only state where alimony never ends is over as of March 1, 2012. The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act has addressed the issue of changing financial circumstances, and places time limits on payments.

Judges can now reduce or terminate alimony to your ex-spouse if he / she is living with another person and receiving financial support from that person.

Cohabiting is defined as keeping a common household with another person for a continuous period of at least 3 months. The law does not limit co-habitation to sexual relationships. Reinstatement of alimony is possible if cohabitation ends however.

If you need evidence to prove that your ex-spouse is living with someone, supporting them financially, paying rent and groceries, then we can help. Ensure that you pay only your fair share. Call us for further details.

Court conducts own review of video evidence

In an unusual appellate decision, a Massachusetts court evaluated how much weight can be given to inconclusive and sporadic surveillance video of a claimant. In Maher v Massachusetts General Hospital Long Term Disability Plan, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals weighed the video evidence in comparison to the number of days of surveillance to find for a disability claimant.

Video evidence showed the claimant employee driving, walking, jogging, lifting a child, and even flying a kite. Unusual for an appellate decision, the judges delved into the fact investigation, noting: “On 10 of the 19 days of surveillance, plaintiff Maher engaged in no activity.” The court found that “In over 90 minutes of surveillance, the most damning evidence the MGH Plan can identify is 15 minutes during which Maher carried a bucket or pot and 30 minutes during which Maher played with her 3 year old son in the park.”

The plan administrator viewed the evidence as showing what doctors had previously concluded: the claimant was not totally disabled. But the court was not convinced: “ Thus most of the surveillance, far from contradicting Maher's disability, seems to confirm her lifestyle as generally housebound with occasional, limited activity.”

Interestingly, the court did not reinstate disability benefits, but instead returned the case to the administrator for further evaluation. Defendant’s attorney noted that three different review boards had found the video evidence did not show the employee met the definition of disability.