Category: legaltech

Demonstrative EvidenceEvidenceExpert Witnesslegaltech

3D Printed Demonstrative Evidence: Expert Witness & Lawyer Insights

Additive manufacturing, also 3D printing, is revolutionizing the creation and development of products. According to Oxford Dictionaries online, 3D printing is defined as, “The action or process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession.” Essentially, you’re making a computer generated three-dimensional solid object.

Are you wondering what type of solids objects one could make? Here are just a few items I’ve found from searching the Internet: bottle openers, sun glass holders, wheelchair ramps, fighter jet parts, concept cars, guns, prosthetic limbs,  jewelry, medical devices, and more.

For our purposes, some of the most interesting uses of 3D printing come in the forms of demonstrative evidence, such as crime-scene reconstruction, accident reconstruction, anatomical recreations for medical malpractice, and product recreations for in product liability cases.  I am certain we will see more uses as the technology progresses, but these seem to be the stand out items in the legal community at present.

3D Printing and the Law:

For a little background, I’ve pulled together some examples of 3D printing uses and their interaction with the law.

An article from 3Dprint.com, discusses a Canadian firm who creates 3D demonstrative models for criminal, medical malpractice, and personal injury cases. The article explains the 3D printed evidence provides a different visual and persuasion experience for jurors. It improves juror memories where verbal or written presentations may fail. A representative for the company featured in the article claims, “the credibility and memory bias problems inherent in courtroom proceedings can be overcome with visual aids.” The company further cited some of their own experiences, “such as 3D printing a broken spine from x-ray data in order to graphically reveal the severity of the injury or using a 3D, PDF image to show the degeneration of a hip in a medical malpractice case as ideal uses for their technology.”

There are other legal issues related to additive manufacturing. For example, if you have access to a 3D printer and you want a Mickey Mouse toy for your kids, what keeps you from creating your own? What if you want to create a bunch of Mickey Mouse toys and sell them to local retail establishments? According to this article from Intellectual Property Watch, you can do just that.  “3D printing technology makes it easy to copy and reproduce products – even if they are protected by a patent, trademark or copyright. It is as simple as downloading a computer-aided design (CAD) file, which can instruct the printer to reproduce a 3D object. CAD files are digital, meaning they can be shared across the internet, just like movies and music.” This article elaborates on the risks to intellectual property:

“The commercialisation of 3D printing – with an increase in small scale manufacturers – makes policing IP complex. Each printed copy of an invention represents the loss of a potential sale to its patent holder. As the manufacturer is ultimately the end user, it is harder to prove infringement. To sue, the patent owner would need to be aware that a manufacturer is using a 3D printer to reproduce their patented invention – a tall order given that 3D printers are increasingly common in households and small businesses.”

Certainly, this is a concern for those who are regularly creating patented and trademarked products.

Law enforcement is another area where 3D printing seems to receive significant news coverage. It seems police are using the technology to recreate crime scenes and even construct printed skeletal reconstructions for unidentified victims. In an article on PoliceOne, I discovered an effort by Maryland State Police to identify a homicide victim whose body was discovered after significant decomposition. Here is the process described on PoliceOne:

“By using 3D printing technology, scientists could create a replica of the skull, enabling police experts to render a facial likeness of the victim, which could lead to an identification… From a 3D printed model, experts can examine the bone structure to predict how facial muscles and skin would lay on the skull… With a rendering of the victim’s facial likeness, investigators hope for someone to come forward and identify the body.”

In an article from the National Post, I found that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are using 3D printing technology to reconstruct automobile accidents. The article which came out early this year just after the RCMP purchased their first 3D printer explained, “The printer would be used by the B.C. RCMP’s integrated collision analysis and reconstruction service (ICARS), which specializes in forensic reconstruction of collisions that cause serious injury or death. It would be used in conjunction with the unit’s existing 3D scanning technology, which it uses to create digital images of accidents.”

The above descriptions of 3D printing in the legal community are just a few examples. I wanted to give you a taste of the different areas of law being impacted by 3D printing.

Now, how about we get some input from an expert witness using the technology? Someone with experience related to 3D printed demonstrative evidence.

Marc Glickstein, MD, FACR – Medical Demonstrative Evidence Expert Witness

Dr. Marc Glickstein, is a partner in a large private practice radiology group, on the senior medical staff of 8 area hospitals, and an assistant clinical professor of Radiology at University of Connecticut School of Medicine. With his medical background and experience in photography, Dr. Glickstein specializes in providing medical demonstrative evidence to attorneys in personal injury and medical malpractice cases. You can learn more about Dr. Glickstein by visiting his website: medivence.com.

I posed several questions to Dr. Glickstein. Even with all of his experience, he has only used 3D printed evidence in two trials. This is not surprising given how few cases make it to trial these days. Nevertheless, the technology is impressive and is likely to be used more frequently in the future. Here are the questions and answers:

Nick: How long have you been working with 3D printed evidence?

Dr. Glickstein: 3 years.

Nick: What are the most common types of 3D printed evidence that you see in litigation?

Dr. Glickstein: 3D is best for depicting fractures although it can also be used to show tumors, birth defects, post operative complications (generally orthopedic).

Nick: Do you find 3D models to be more compelling evidence than other demonstrations?

Dr. Glickstein: Yes, because they can be viewed in real-time and the jurors can actually hold the model in their hand and have tactile as well as visual input which makes the experience more real and memorable.  It can also be more visually compelling to see the abnormality in 3 dimensions.

Nick: What types of 3D printed evidence have you used to assist in your expert analysis?

Dr. Glickstein: It has been limited to cases of bone fracture at this point but there is no reason why other types of modeling such as tumor modeling could not be used.

Nick: Can you share any examples of 3D printed demonstrations that were critical to the outcome of a case?

Dr. Glickstein: The photos I gave you (see below) were used to illustrate the severe nature of the spinal vertebral fracture and clearly showed the jury that there was significant spinal compression.  They clearly understood this but the verdict went to the opposing side for other reasons, too detailed and arcane to present here.

spinal-fracture-1.JPG

spinal-fracture-2.JPG

Nick: In my mind, I’m thinking 3D printed models are going to be incredibly expensive. Can you give us an idea of costs for 3D printed evidence?

Dr. Glickstein: 3D is expensive and that is the main hurdle. Many attorneys do not appreciate the compelling nature of such modeling and the costs can be dissuasive. The materials alone can run $1-2000 and that does not take into account the time needed to work out the display. This also does not factor in the costs of the 3D printers which are usually rented on a per click basis by a company that does the modeling, and high quality 3D printers can cost over $100k. A model can cost between $2500-4000 for the final product.

Nick: As an example, how long would it take to create a 3D printed model of a human heart?

Dr. Glickstein: It really does not matter whether one is making a model of a fracture or the heart…the time is similar and in general it should take a couple of weeks for me to create a model from time of receipt of the images to delivery of the finished product.

Nick: Anything else you think the legal community should know about 3D printed evidence that I have not asked…

Dr. Glickstein: 3D modeling quality is dependent on the parameters used in the original imaging, which must be of high enough resolution to enable high quality reconstructions in 3D, just as is the case in 2D or digital 3D reconstructions.  If a study is not of high enough resolution, it is not going to enable one to generate an acceptable rendition.  A radiologist can make that determination upon viewing the study itself.

There you have it. Direct from the expert who has used 3D models in litigation. The costs dissuade consistent use of this demonstrative evidence. However, this will not always be the case. As the technology progresses, costs will decrease, making 3D models will be less cost prohibitive. With the potential to show a jury the extent of an injury and allow them to hold a perfectly scaled replica, I predict the demonstrative models will be commonplace.

For greater insight on the future of this evidence, I reached out to one of the most tech savvy lawyers I know.

Morris Lilienthal, Esq. – Huntsville Alabama Wrongful Death and Personal Injury Attorney

Morris Lilienthal is a civil trial lawyer with more than 14 years of experience in wrongful death, personal injury, and product liability matters. He practices in Huntsville, Alabama with Martinson & Beason, PC. Morris is also the host of the TheMoShow, where he interviews local and statewide leaders, sharing stories of their business, public, and charitable endeavors. Prior to law school, he attended Maryville College in Tennessee where he played offensive tackle on the football team. The same competitive nature that helped Morris excel on the field helps him in his representation of injury victims today.

I know a lot of lawyers and I reached out to a bunch of them. It may be no surprise that none of them have yet used 3D printed demonstrative evidence in trial. Although, most of them knew of lawyers who had. This area of demonstrative evidence is growing and we’re sure to see it in the future. I asked Morris some questions about the potential use of 3D printed models at trial. Here they are:

Nick: Have you used 3D printed demonstrative evidence in litigation?

Morris: I have not used 3D printed models yet.

Nick: Would you find it helpful to present a 3D model to jurors to show the extent of an injury?

Morris: Yes, I think a 3D model would be very helpful in trial.  Anytime you put the jury in a position where they can visualize what’s occurred the case goes from just something that’s abstract to real life.  The jury gets a real understanding of what injury the plaintiff suffered and can then understand how the injury may impact them. As the saying goes a picture speaks a thousand words.

Nick: Do you think it would be good for jurors to be able to hold and analyze an exact replica of an injury (skeletal damage, damaged organ, traumatic brain injury)?

Morris: Yes.  Again it allows the jury to understand how the accident at issue caused the injury and how the injury impacts the plaintiff.

Nick: Besides current costs, is there a reason you might avoid using 3D printed demonstrative evidence?

Morris: Authentication by the doctor.  Before the model is able to be introduced into evidence you will have to get the doctor to validate its a true representation of the plaintiff’s injury.  This, can be done by sending the doctor the model prior to his/her testimony for authentication. However if the model is not accurate it will have to be made.

Nick: Are there any other items you think lawyers should take into consideration before using 3D printed evidence?

Morris: Just make sure the jury understands this is the exact injury the plaintiff suffered and that it’s not a model.

As this evidence is more commonly used, we will bring you more insights and suggestions from the experts and lawyers using the evidence at trial. Keep an eye out for the 3D printed demonstrative models. If they have not yet, they will be coming to a courtroom near you!

 

 

 

Audio ForensicsExpert Witnesslegaltech

Laurel v. Yanny: An Audio Forensics Expert Witness Scientifically Settles the Dispute

On Tuesday of this week, the Internet erupted in a dispute over an audio recording of a word. Or, maybe two words. Nobody knows because nobody can agree. I know what you’re thinking, “We’re so glad Nick decided to write about a viral Internet sensation that we’re already tired of hearing about.” I feel your sarcasm and I reject it. The confusion over the word got me thinking we may be unable to trust our ears. If we cannot trust our hearing, what impact might that have on recorded evidence presented at trial? Or, in a less formal matter (disagreements with a loved one)?

CLICK HEAR FOR THE RECORDING

The New York Times did a good job of addressing the Laurel v. Yanny dispute in this article. They created a tool that allowed readers to change the frequency of the audio recording. Move the arrow all the way to the left and your clearly hear the word “Laurel.” Move it all the way to the right and you hear “Yanny.” Regardless of where the arrow was stationed, disagreement exists.

Don’t worry, I did some research for this article. Using a non-scientific methodology, which is definitely NOT generally accepted in the audio forensics community, I came to some totally unreliable conclusions. Asking friends, family, and coworkers what they heard on the recording, I came to some interesting conclusions. More women heard Yanny and more men heard Laurel. I’m certain the margin of error is enormous and I can’t recall if I asked an even number of men and women. It also appears to be some different interpretations based on age. Then of course, some people heard different words, at different times, on different devices. This really caused problems for my non-scientific research. I heard Laurel one day on one device and Yanny another day on another device.

Naturally, all of this made me wonder how we can trust our hearing? How is evidence reliable? What about witness testimony about what was heard? Of course, I also wondered if science could settle the dispute?

Is testimony about what was heard as unreliable as eyewitness identification testimony?

Eyewitness identification used to be considered incredibly strong evidence. In fact, in some US jurisdictions, it is still compelling evidence. From my experience working with expert witnesses and following the science with some interest for the last eight years, I can tell you that eyewitness identification evidence is terribly unreliable. It is frightening how often it is wrong. There are so many variables which can impact the judgement, perceptions, and memories of an eyewitness, that I would not trust it (without some strong corroborating evidence).

So, I wonder if the hearing of an eyewitness is similarly compromised? How do I know if a witness heard three or five gun shots? How do we know the witness heard one collision or two? What about business negotiations? Are we certain we’re all hearing the same thing and agreeing to the same terms being memorialized in the contract?

Typically, I am more inclined to believe recorded evidence because I am biased against eyewitness testimony from the scientific studies I’ve read. Or, should I say, I was more inclined to believe recorded evidence.

After the Laurel/Yanny dispute, I wondered if recorded audio evidence is reliable? If I can hear one thing and others hear something totally different, how can we rely on a recording? For insights on this phenomena, I’ve reached out to an audio forensics expert.

Herbert Joe – Forensic Audio Video Analysis Expert Witness

Herbert Joe is a highly qualified and board certified forensic audio and video examiner. He has three science degrees and two law degrees. He and his partner have been retained in thousands of criminal, civil, and administrative cases throughout the US and internationally. Mr. Joe has worked on many high-profile matters including the Branch Davidian case, State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman; the Associated Press (Osama bin Laden); consultations with Dr. Phil (Manti Teo), CSI: Miami, TMZ (Michael Jackson), the Wall Street Journal, and People Magazine (Mel Gibson). You can learn more about Mr. Joe by visiting his website: forensicscenter.com.

As I normally do for blogs, I posed several questions to Mr. Joe. Please see my questions and his answers below:

Nick: Some listeners hear Laurel and others hear Yanny. Is this a result of the recording or the listener’s hearing?

Mr. Joe: What one hears has a large subjective component, and even then the same listener may hear it differently over time, depending on a host dynamic factors. For examples, what one perceives to hear may depend largely on the mood or emotive state of that person at that time; what one perceives to hear may depend largely on what s/he is expecting or anticipating to hear; what one perceives to hear may depend largely on one’s hearing ability. Clearly, there are many other factors to determine and affect what one hears, what one interprets and what one recalls, all of which may change over time for that person, and may be very different from what another person perceives to hear.

This only scratches the surface of the area of psychoacoustics, speech production and speech perception.

Nick: Is there a correct answer to Laurel or Yanny?

Mr. Joe: Hate to sound like an attorney – as I am one – but the answer to that question depends, depends on how you phrase that question. Is there a correct answer to what one hears? Yes, it’s what one perceives. But if one clearly enunciates either name/word, then there is an objectively correct answer, namely (sorry for the pun), the word that was spoken or played back – regardless of how it was heard, if at all, by the listener(s).

Consider this analogy with light. We know that our eyes are sensitive to light within the (narrow) visible light spectrum, a small part of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. So let’s take a red apple. Sunlight or white light is made up of all the different color lights that we know of, as we learned in school – ROY G BIZ, red, orange, yellow, blue, green, indigo and violet. But that apple is red, whether we perceive it that way or not. It’s red because the skin of that apple absorbs all the colors of the incoming white light except red, which is reflected and that’s why we see red. (If we shine a pure red light on that apple and no other light is present in a closed room, then that apple will not appear because all the red light is absorbed, and since there is no other light frequency to reflect, then there is no light to perceive, i.e., it appears black.

Likewise, sound is merely vibrations of air that propagates from the source (through the air or another medium) and can be heard when they reach a person’s or animal’s ear. That’s the objective part – the frequencies at whatever intensities at any given moment. It’s there whether we can appreciate them or not.

Nick: Is there a way to determine the correct answer?

Mr. Joe: There is a correct answer if the question is whether there are linguistic and acoustic differences between the spoken words “Laurel” or “Yanny.” See answer to question #5, below.

Nick: If listeners are hearing different words, how can recorded evidence be trusted?

Mr. Joe: For the past 31 years, my partner and I have been forensically analyzing audio, acoustic, voice and video evidence in state and Federal courts, in civil, criminal and administrative cases throughout the U.S., as well as many foreign countries. Recorded evidence must be subjected to admissibility standards to be admitted, and the subject to analyses and opinions that go to the weight of the evidence. If the proponent of the audio (or acoustic, voice or video) evidence can provide facts sufficient to support a reasonable jury determination that the recording is an accurate reproduction of the event that it purports to record. Where we often get retained is to show and testify, objectively and with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, that the recording has been falsified or tampered with in one way or another to render the recording untrustworthy as a whole. Now if the case comes down to an interpretation or dispute of what was said in some recording, we can enhance (digital signal processing) the passage(s) of interest, allow the jurors to hear the enhanced audio (with good quality headphones), provide a reasonably accurate transcript and provide expert testimony thereof. However, the other side can also have their transcript version of the recording, and it is up to the jury to ultimately decide what the recorded evidence says or not say.

Nick: If the Laurel/Yanny recording was presented as evidence at trial, what analysis would you use to prove one word or the other?

Mr. Joe: We had a case in which the entire felony indictment centered on a single, mono-syllabic word. The Government contended that the Defendant said “Shoot the [expletive]!” The Defendant claimed that he said “Shoot me, [expletive]!” The Government contended the former exclamation underscored intent and contentment that an officer was killed. The defense contended that the latter showed his remorse. So, we had to objectively differentiate between the /th/ sound and the /m/ sound with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty – regardless of what perceives to hear. The /th/ sound is known as a fricative because the tip of the tongue is placed just behind the two front (central) incisors to create friction in producing the /th/ sound. The /m/ sound is known as a nasal sound since air bypasses the oral cavity because the lips are closed (and the soft palate drops) and thus passes out through the nasal passages. After enhancing the audio evidence, spectral analyses revealed the 2nd word had higher frequency energy (“the”, as opposed to lower frequency energy, which would indicate the nasal sound /m/); so, that 2nd word was “me” and not “the.” The case was dismissed upon our testimony.

Likewise, phonetically, Laurel begins with the letter “L,” whereas Yanny begins with the letter “Y.” Although the letter “Y” (a/k/a a semivowel) can represent a vowel or a consonant, it is used as a consonant in “Yanny.” Therefore, on the one hand, there are common phonetic features of the consonants “L” and “Y,” e.g., they are both voiced consonants produced by directing air solely with the lungs and diaphragm and actively narrowing the vocal tract upon articulation. In making either of these sounds, air only leaves through the mouth. On the other hand, there is a substantial phonetic difference between these 2 letters. The letter “L” is a “lateral” consonant, as it is made by directing the airstream around the sides of the tongue upon articulation; the letter “Y” is a “central” consonant, because it is made by directing the airstream along the center of the tongue upon articulation.

One can “see” this substantial difference in the raw waveform, as well as the same waveform viewed as a 3-dimensional spectrogram. Below is the waveform of my enunciating “Laurel,” and then “Yanny.” Below that is a spectrogram of the exact same recording. And one certainly should be able to hear and perceive the difference if the sound source is accurate in the enunciation of each.

laurel-yanny-graph-1.PNG

laurel-yanny-graph-2.PNG

Nick: The Laurel/Yanny recording is of a robotic voice. Are human voices less susceptible to this type of misinterpretation?

Mr. Joe: First, I’m not sure if I agree with the premise. Human voices naturally have varying degrees of emotions manifested by simultaneous changes in pitch, resonance, fluency, intonation, prosody and duration of the words and speech segments. In contrast, computer-generated, synthetic or robotic speech utilizes an algorithm that translates orthographic strings of letters into the robotic voice; however, synthetic voice is audibly missing emotive components, like the natural variations in pitch, level, and intonation.

But it’s not so much misinterpretation, as it is how the brain perceives the difference: human speech requires little effort by our auditory cortex when perceived; however, synthetic or robotic speech requires more effort when listened to. Without the emotive components in human speech, robotic speech has fewer cues to help our brains with identifying phonemes.

Nick: Do different interpretations of the Laurel/Yanny recording cast doubt on what a witness claims to have heard (ex. witness to a crime, collision, conversation)?

Mr. Joe: This question opens up a whole different Pandora’s Box. Earwitness identification, recall and the like has little to do with synthesized voices (unless of course the subject matter has to do with a synthesized voice). What one hears and perceives at the time of some acoustic event and recalls at a later time is subject to so many factors, e.g., one’s mental state at the time, how traumatic that acoustic event is, etc.

We had a case in which the reliability or trustworthiness of a witness recalling an auditory event years later was at issue. There are generally accepted academic, clinical and forensic studies in the areas of the reliability of earwitness identification. For examples, it is well-established that there is a temporal decay of memory for voices. In one study, after 2 weeks of hearing one’s voice but never seeing that person, reliability is only 68% correct, 35% correct after 3 months and only 13% correct after 5 months (less than a chance guess). The majority of forensically relevant encounters with unknown voices may well occur before the listener forms an intent to memorize.

Nick: We have no context for the Laurel/Yanny recording. Simply two words. Does context play a role in the analysis of a disputed recording? For example, a recording of a business agreement or a family law dispute.

Mr. Joe: Absolutely! Let’s take an example of the phrase “I’m going to kill you.” If that phrase appeared in a transcript with no other context, then 10 different readers may have ten different interpretations (20 if the readers are attorneys, but I digress). If that phrase was spoken in no other context and heard by someone, the emotionality and therefore the intent of that phrase alone may be revealed. If said sarcastically and sassily, then one would likely interpret that phrase without any real concerns. On the other hand, if that phrase was spoken and heard with sheer anger, then one would likely interpret that phrase with much concerns. If that phrase was in the broader context of 2 boxers, for example, being interviewed the night before their championship fight, then the meaning of that phrase is materially different than the same phrase spoken in context of 2 people viciously fighting. Clearly, one can see the context of a word or phrase can make all the difference in what was objectively meant, especially in contrast to a naked phrase with no context and completely subject to interpretation.

And another relevant issue here is the concept of top-down thinking in the context of speech perception. One can unintentionally or purposefully make someone subconsciously biased as to what s/he “should” hear in an anticipated audio recording; likewise, one’s own life experiences color what you think you hear or should hear. Stated another way, it may be equally remarkable if a study using the same “Laurel/Yanny” audio clip, the listener was asked what they hear without mentioning either or any name or word.

By the way, for the applicable analyses as described above, and given my 31 years of experience in critical listening of audio and acoustic evidence, and without any bias or top down thinking, it is clear to me that the word from the May 16, 2018 NYTimes article that the word generated is “Laurel.”


 

There you have it, folks! Laurel is the word that has baffled the Internet for the last three days. I want to extend a huge thank you to Herbert Joe of Yonovitz & Joe, LLP, for his exquisite scientific analysis of the Laurel/Yanny audio clip. What mystery will the Internet provide next? Only time will tell. When there is a mystery to solve, you can get your forensic scientific answers on this blog! Naturally, you’ll get some non-scientific analysis from yours truly.

 

 

Criminal JusticeCriminal LawExpert Witnesslegaltech

Fingerprints Lifted from Social Media Photo: Expert Evidence and Impact on Criminal Defense

Friday morning, I read a really interesting article from the FindLaw Technologist blog (their legal technology blog). The headline grabbed my attention because it was about drug dealers’ fingerprints being lifted from a photo on social media application, WhatsApp. This was news to me. I had no idea law enforcement could obtain digital fingerprints or that they could be used for an arrest. In hindsight, it seems perfectly reasonable that fingerprints could be obtained this way because the cameras in our cell phones are so advanced.

Probably, like many laypeople, I thought law enforcement had to access latent fingerprints left on a physical object (doorknob, weapon, cell phone, etc.). Based on my years of watching police procedural television shows and documentaries, I assumed the fingerprints had to be dusted by an evidence technician, input to a database, and then compared to other prints in the database. Today, however, I discovered that’s not the only way to do it.

As the Findlaw article explained, “Law enforcement arrested members of a drug ring using fingerprints on a cell phone photograph. Investigators didn’t even need the suspects’ cell phone because the photo was posted on the messaging application, WhatsApp.” The photo showed a male hand holding a bag of drugs. The agency’s forensics team uploaded the photo to a fingerprint data base and they found a match. The article specifically states the officers “acting on other information” located and arrested the man.

My assumption was the officers needed additional evidence in order to make an arrest.  Authorities can likely use the image as an investigative lead and then they have to go find additional evidence to establish probable cause for an arrest.

Alas, these were only my assumptions. It’s been a long time since I spent any time on criminal procedure. As such, I have asked for some input from Walter M. Reaves, Esq. Walter is a friend and colleague I’ve met through the LegalMinds Mastermind Group. He is a criminal defense attorney located in Waco, Texas. To find more about his practice, visit waco-criminal-attorney.com.

Input from Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves:

Walter jumped on the questions I asked and elaborated on the entire concept of using digital and social media photos. Here is what he said:

“Given the way cell phones have taken control of all our lives, it’s not surprising that they are being used as evidence in criminal cases. For several years, the police have been obtaining cell tower location to place a suspect (or at least their phone) in a certain location. Evidence found on cell phones has also been used – for some reason, dope dealers seem to like taking pictures with their stash. And of course, there’s always text messages.

A new technique may be lifting fingerprints from phones. The process would utilize a picture on the phone of someone’s hand and fingers, and attempt to match that like you would a latent print developed at a crime scene. The process may be no different from what is being done now. Latent prints are placed on a card, and pictures are taken. The digital photos are what are used for comparison.

If a fingerprint on a cell phone is used, you can expect challenges from defense lawyers. The prosecutor will have to convince the court the process for making the comparison is reliable, which may be a problem.

For starters, there could be problems with manipulating the photos in order to get something to use for comparison. The photos will probably need to be enhanced in some way, and you can expect defense lawyers to challenge the way that is done. Some adjustment will have to be made for the photo itself, since no camera produces an exact representation of what it is capturing. Establishing the admissibility of the photo of the fingerprint will therefore have to be the first hurdle the State will have to meet.

Even if the State can establish the identification is reliable, I seriously doubt this is going to be a common practice. I can’t imagine many situations where it would be relevant. Maybe if someone is holding dope, and all you can see is their hand, the fingerprint could be used to establish possession. I can’t think of many other situations though. In most cases, you would think if a picture is being taken, you could identify who was in the picture. You also might have problems with identifying location, and time, if that’s important.

There will be an even bigger problem when you are trying to use the photograph to prove possession of a controlled substance. The problem is proving what the substance is. If you don’t have it, there’s no way to test; it could be baking soda just as easily as it could be cocaine.

So, it’s an interesting concept, but don’t expect it be coming to a courtroom near you anytime soon.”

Based on reading this information from Walter, I stand by my contention this is an investigative tool for law enforcement. However, such images are unlikely to be used as evidence in court. It seems there will be problems with relevance, reliability, and authenticity. These hurdles may in time be overcome as technology advances.

Input from Photographic Evidence Expert Witness Dr. James Ebert:

For a more in-depth understanding of this practice, I reached out to Experts.com member and expert witness Dr. James Ebert. Dr. Ebert is a forensic photogrammetrist who is regularly called to interpret and testify about photographic and mapped evidence in civil and criminal matters. You can learn more about Dr. Ebert’s expertise and practice by visiting his website ebert.com.

Dr. Ebert’s comments left me feeling behind the times when I heard about the use of digital photos as a law enforcement tool. Here is what he had to say:

“It has been widely known and discussed on the web for a decade or more that identifiable fingerprints can be recovered from photographs for good or bad purposes, given that the photos are of sufficient resolution, lighting, focus, and that enough of the fingerprint can be seen to allow a match to be attempted.  Faces published on the internet can, of course, also be identified through photo matching services like TinEye reverse image search, or facial recognition software.  Both fingerprints and faces can, for instance, be run on the FBI’s new Next Generation Identification system by law enforcement agencies around the country.  This does not insure false positive results as are common with all automated fingerprint or facial identifications.  I have never attempted to make identifications of fingerprints in my practice as a forensic photogrammetrist, but are certainly possible and they should be just as reliable as are those done with fingerprint or facial data collected in other ways.  I am often, however, called upon to do facial identifications from photographic evidence. Whether such fingerprints and facial identification are ethical clearly depends on whether they are done for ethical purposes.  Identification of possible criminals from fingerprints by law enforcement is an example of a good use of technologies, and if done for purposes like hacking or harassment it’s not.”

Based on Dr. Ebert’s comments, it appears this practice has been considered and possibly utilized for some time. As Dr. Ebert mentioned, there is potential for abuse in matters of hacking and harassment. I cannot speak for Walter, but I imagine he would think there is potential for abuse by law enforcement as well.

Technology is changing so rapidly that it is difficult to keep up with all the advancements. What we’re doing with this blog is trying to discover how technology impacts the criminal justice system. If you have any suggestions for future  posts on technological advancements in criminal or civil justice, please comment below.

 

 

EngineeringExpert WitnessInsurancelegaltech

Robot Rights and Liability: Do they need legal rights? Here’s what one expert witness has to say…

Have you been following the advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics? There are some really fascinating developments in the fields. Just this week I’ve read about artificially intelligent systems used to identify people likely to commit a crime (before it happens); robotics systems being used in construction; unmanned aerial vehicles; self-driving cars; and, of course, it seems a week cannot go by without a new headline about sex robots.

Last Friday, I found some news stories that were really interesting. It appears a 2017 report from the European Commission had “a paragraph of text buried deep in a European Parliament report, that advised creating a ‘legal status for robots,'” according to this article from The Daily Mail.

I found this quite fascinating and had to dig deeper. Why would we need to develop a legal status for robots? What would be the point? An article in Futurism stated, “If a robot, acting autonomously injures or otherwise wrongs a human, who will be held responsible? Some European lawmakers think that the best way to resolve this question will be to give robots ‘electronic personalities,’ a form of legal person-hood.”

To me, there is a simple answer to this topic. The owner and/or the manufacturer would be held liable. Why would society need something beyond existing negligence, product liability, and consumer protection laws?

According to the report, the European Commission does not want to give robots legal status equal to humans. Rather, they want to give them a status similar to corporations. The concern doesn’t seem to apply to your automation-style robots, but rather those capable of self-learning.

I contend we do not need new theories of liability to address this issue. It should be handled just like owning an automobile. As the owner of a car, I must have it insured. Insurance covers personal injury and property damage caused by the vehicle if I am driving it or if another driver is covered by my policy. If the vehicle malfunctions and causes damage due to a manufacturing, design, or warning defect, then I sue the manufacturer (or another injured party may sue the manufacturer). As such, owner and manufacturer are the responsible parties. My automobile doesn’t require its own legal status.

A robot, sentient or not, does not require its own legal status. It can be insured just like an automobile and the owner should be responsible for insuring the equipment. Furthermore, if it malfunctions and causes harm, the manufacturer can be held liable for any product defects.

I have asked for some input on this topic from a couple of our Experts.com members. At the time of this writing we have received a response from one expert. Dr. Harry Direen, PhD, PE, has a wide variety of expertise including electronic systems, control systems, robotics, software, signal processing, UAV’s/drones, and more. I encourage you to check out his company DireenTech.

Several questions were posited to Dr. Direen. Please see the questions and answers below.

What the expert has to say:

Me: Do you see any need for creating a legal status for robots?

Dr. Direen: No… robots are not humans, they are machines.  Despite the hype, I do not believe robot technology is anywhere near thinking on their own or being responsible for their actions.

Me: Are there any positive reasons to create a legal status for robots?

Dr. Direen: No, not that I know of.

Me: Are there any negatives you can think of in creating a legal status?

Dr. Direen: Yes, as a society we start legally blurring the lines between humans and the machines we create.  I don’t believe we elevate humans in the process, but just the opposite.  We advance the myth that humans are little more than carbon based machines with no more value than the machines we create rather than highly valued creations of our Creator.

Me: Is there any reason damage caused by robots cannot be addressed by existing legal principles such as product liability (manufacturing, design, or warning defects)?

Dr. Direen: No. Giving robots legal status would simply be an excuse to divorce engineers, designers, and manufactures from the responsibility of their products.

Me: If a robot were to fail and cause personal or property damage, would a forensic investigation apply the same principles as any other failure analysis investigation?

Dr. Direen: Yes, a robot is just a piece of technology like any other.

So there you have it. Dr. Direen and I seem to be in agreement. Existing legal and investigatory principles should apply to robots. There is no need to provide additional legal protections to machinery.

What do you think? Feel free to comment below and let me know your thoughts. It is a fascinating topic. Robotics is a field where I anticipate a great deal of future litigation. As the topic evolves, I’m certain we’ll be discussing it in greater depth.

 

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Tinder v. Bumble: Swipe Right for Your Next Patent Infringement Expert Witness

Last Friday I was sitting at my desk trying to find the next topic to blog about. Friday was an incredibly slow news day and nothing had piqued my interest. So I reached out to some lawyer-friends in the LegalMinds Mastermind Group for some ideas. I received a lot of feedback with some really great ideas. However, this Tinder v. Bumble lawsuit sounded like the most fun. A special thanks to patent lawyer, Karima Gulick, for the idea.

In fact, I had not even heard about this lawsuit until Karima mentioned it. It seems that Tinder’s parent company, Match Group (think Match.com), has decided to sue Bumble for patent infringement. For those who haven’t heard of Bumble, it is another popular dating app that allows women to make the first move. It seems they are now using very similar features to Tinder. An article in The Verge described the two patents at issue:

“…one called ‘Matching Process System and Method,’ in which users swipe cards and mutually select one another, as well as ‘Display Screen or Portion Thereof With a Graphical User Interface of a Mobile Device,’ which it describes as an ‘ornamental aspect’ of Tinder’s App. The lawsuit also points to similarities between each companies’ apps, and Bumble’s descriptions of ‘swiping’ run afoul of Tinder’s registered trademarks.”

It seems Tinder is accusing Bumble of infringing on the item that really made Tinder famous (i.e. swiping). Swiping did away with all that scrolling, reading, and learning about a potential romantic interest. Who has time for that? Even if you have time, who wants to do it? Instead, Tinder allowed you to make the important dating decision based on looks and looks alone, if you’re that shallow. It does appear there is a short biography portion some might want to read, but only if the potential match fits your physical requirements per their photo.

“Swipe right” and “swipe left” became a part of our nomenclature, often used outside of dating. I’ve heard comics and late show hosts use the terminology. There is no doubt in my mind, those using the terminology associate it with Tinder. Alas, Bumble decided to use the feature as well. Probably because users liked picking their mates via the swipe method.

There are some further accusations as set forth in this article by Recode, “[Tinder] also claims that early Bumble executives Chris Gulczynski and Sarah Mick, who both previously worked at Tinder, stole ‘confidential information related to proposed Tinder features,’ including the idea for a feature that lets users go back if they accidentally skip someone, according to the suit.” This is important, because when you’re swiping for volume (because it’s a numbers game) and get into a zone you might accidentally eliminate someone you find attractive. You need to undo that ASAP.

Finally, there is the issue of Match/Tinder trying to purchase Bumble last year. They offered $450 million, which was turned down, due to the acrimonious relationship between the two companies. Is Tinder using this case to apply some pressure on Bumble, thereby encouraging a sale? Quite possible.

If the case actually moves ahead and a sale is not negotiated, we can expect to see some expert witness participation. What kind of experts? I wish I could encourage you to swipe right to view them. However, you just have to keep reading!

Intellectual Property / Patent Infringement:

Intellectual property is sort of wide ranging term for expert witnesses. A broad range of expertise fits into the category intellectual property, such as patents, patent infringement, trademarks, trade dress, copyrights, licensing, trade secrets, and more.

In the Tinder v. Bumble issue, it appears they are only suing over a couple of patents and The Verge told us what those patents are. Both patents appear to be connected with the user interface, so I anticipate we will see intellectual property experts with software, programming,  and design engineering backgrounds. There is potential need for electronic engineering expert witnesses, but I think that will be less likely as it doesn’t appear hardware is at issue in this case.

Trademarks:

The lawsuit also claims that Bumble’s use of the word “swiping” infringes on Tinder’s registered trademarks. This legal dictionary from Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute describes a trademark as follows, “A trademark is any word, name, symbol, or design, or any combination thereof, used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from those of another and to indicate the source of the goods.”

The Legal Information Institute also tells us that “Two basic requirements must be met for a mark to be eligible for trademark protection: it must be in use in commerce and it must be distinctive.”

As I mentioned above, I knew that “swiping” was something associated with Tinder and I know that Tinder is a subscription based dating service. So, according to this layperson, the mark is being used in commerce and I recognize it as distinctive to Tinder. Now that I’ve made this information public, I cannot imagine Bumble wanting me on the jury. Luckily, the case has been filed in the US District Court in Waco, Texas.

Furthermore, a trademark expert witness retained by Bumble, may be able to provide information about “swiping” that indicates it is not distinctive. In fact, the terminology may be quite prevalent in software uses.

A Similar Matter?

The software matter I equate to this lawsuit would be the “Stories” issue between Snapchat and Instagram. Snapchat was the first social media platform to use the Stories feature, allowing users to post a continuing series of video clips or photos in order to create an ongoing story. Instagram copied it, nearly outright, and even admitted that they took the idea from Snapchat. To my knowledge, this has not resulted in litigation. However, the use of software-based features seem nearly identical and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a patent infringement and trademark dispute between Facebook (Instagram’s parent company) and Snapchat.

Requests:

As I am not practicing in this field, I think it would be great to get some feedback from a some lawyers who regularly deal with patents and trademarks.

I have asked Karima Gulick of Gulick Law and Joey Vitale of Indie Law to provide some real insight, rather than lay punditry, in the matter of Tinder v. Bumble.

UPDATE:

Intellectual property and patent attorney, Karima Gulick, has provided her insight about this case on her blog. Here is her blog post: Tinder v. Bumble: Patent dispute in app dating paradise.

Copyright and trademark attorney, Joey Vitale, has provided his insight about this case on his blog. Here is his blog post: Be careful if you “swipe”: trademark battles in Tinder v. Bumble.

 

 

Expert WitnessLawyerslegaltechSocial Media

Technology and Awareness: How to bridge the access to justice gap?

Our final blog post of 2017 highlighted an upcoming event I’m really enthusiastic about. I’ll be moderating a panel at the ABA-GPSolo/GLSA 2018 Joint Spring Meeting (April 25-28, 2018) in New Orleans. This is the GLSA’s (Group Legal Services Association) annual educational conference.

Why am I so excited? Well, it will be held during Jazz Fest in New Orleans! Why wouldn’t I be excited?!

In all sincerity, I’m thrilled to be sharing the panel with some awesome lawyers. Our group has worked diligently to create a valuable presentation for our audience.

Five individuals, with little prior knowledge of each other, have come together through solid teamwork to create a coherent presentation underlining the obstacles facing client access to justice and some steps to improve access.

What started as “legal technology and the access to justice” has morphed into a topic of technology and awareness building to bridge the access to justice gap.

I can’t wait to meet my teammates and the readers of this blog post in person! Allow me to introduce you to the team:

Sarah Kieny:

Sarah is a shareholder in the Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison & Lewis law firm and has been with the firm since 1997.  Sarah received her J.D. from Creighton University Law School in 1994, and a BA in Religious Studies in 1991 from Regis College in Denver, Colorado.  Sarah is the firms’ LegalShield Supervising Attorney where she manages LegalShield front line 20+ attorneys and staff in day-to-day operations. She has also spearheaded the firms’ involvement in raising community awareness about the availability of legal services. Sarah has coordinated a quarterly “Law Day” program with Denver’s nonprofit organization, Warren Village, for the specific purpose of offering legal access to single parents who are transitioning to self-support through education, training, and commitment.

Wayne Hassay:

Wayne is the managing partner of Maguire Schneider Hassay, LLP. He joined the firm in 1998, and became a partner in 2004. He has been with the firm almost 20 years, practicing in the areas of personal injury, probate, and collection, plus he lectures regularly on the non-traditional delivery of legal services. His firm services the legal needs of over 36,000 Ohioans as part of legal service plan, LegalShield.

Wayne and I are sort of kindred spirits, although we approach legal technology and access to justice a bit differently, since I don’t practice. In a Law Practice Today article from last year, Wayne stated “Client-facing tech is the norm in so many professions. Can you imagine working with a bank that does not have client-facing technology? No. Yet law lags far behind.” Let’s work to correct this, Wayne!

Kerry Lavelle:

Kerry began his own practice, Lavelle Legal Services, in 1989, focusing primarily on matters of tax law. Today the firm, now known as Lavelle Law, Ltd., has grown to include 22 attorneys with practice groups in tax, business law, commercial real estate, estate planning, criminal law, home health care, small business, gaming law, bankruptcy, corporate formation, family law, litigation, grocery law, employment law, residential real estate, securities, and LGBT law. He is the author of The Business Guide to Law: Creating and Operating a Successful Law Firm, published by the Division. In 2016, Kerry was designated a Top 100 Attorney in Illinois by Super Lawyers. In 2015, his firm was one of 13 law firms nationally to receive the Beacon of Justice Award for pro bono service from the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA).

Tony Clayton:

Tony is the managing partner of Clayton, Fruge & Ward. He graduated from Southern University’s Law Center in 1991 and was admitted to the Louisiana State Bar that same year. While establishing his private practice, Tony has had the privilege of also being involved in other areas of the legal profession, including District Court Judge for the Louisiana Supreme Court and Special Prosecutor for East Baton Rouge Parish.

Moderator / Panelist, Nick Rishwain:

I am the Vice President of Client Relations & Business Development for Experts.com, an online marketing platform for expert witnesses and consultants. In my free time, I am quite active in social media. In 2015, I founded and co-host a live video vlog, LegalTechLIVE, which advocates for and highlights the advancements in the legal technology sector. Additionally, I co-host SocialChatter, a live, weekly, social media news show.