Stationary Police Tag Readers

Photo by Mike Katz-Lacabe (CC BY)

In court last week while interviewing a police officer, I wanted to know how he knew my client happened to be on Interstate xx when the officer knew to pull my client over in an allegedly stolen car from another state. There were otherwise no driving infractions or other reason to to pick him out from the sea of cars whizzing by at 65 plus in the middle of the day. I asked if the officer’s car was equipped with mobile, automatic tag readers on the trunk. He said, no, not exactly. So I asked was it a stationary reader. By his vague response I could see that that may in fact be the case. I asked another officer, unrelated to the case, whether stationary police tag readers exist and are they in this county. He responded, “Of course.”

So I did my own research and discovered that stationary tag readers are everywhere. These can be attached to traffic and sign poles. As this example shows, they can be a great crime fighting tool. However, like other modern technologies, such as DNA analysis, geofencing, Facebook, etc, stationary tag readers can be a real threat to privacy. Multiple cameras, in sequence and shared across police departments, can track a car’s travels and determine driving habits over time. The Electronic Frontier Foundation points out that the government’s ability to automatically track where you drive to can chill protected First Amendment activity of people who visit sensitive areas such as clinics, gun stores, political protests, or immigrant and religious meetings.

I realize now that I was recently benignly tracked and tagged by a stationary tag reading system. In this case it worked great for me. I drove through Maryland and Delaware a few weeks ago. To avoid I -95 traffic through Baltimore, Waze had me drive a long detour north through Annapolis to Wilmington. The sign said Delaware Highway 301 is an an EZPass toll road. So I was prepared to stop and pay tolls. But, strangely, there weren’t any for whole 40 or so miles. A couple of weeks later I received a letter from the Delaware Toll Authority. I figured it must be a fine and wondered if I blew past a toll booth and didn’t realize it. But how can that be? I learned that that toll system is completely automated. I did nothing wrong. Delaware sent me a photo of my car and tag, thanked me for my business, and said that the toll is $3.50 for non EZPass holders. The toll is a little less if you have an EZPass.

Open Records, Freedom of Information Act

Going to Jail in Cobb County

Criminal defense lawyers need as much information as possible to best represent their clients. The police and prosecutors have great resources at their disposal when they try to convict our clients for supposed crimes. We need to at least match their resources and get favorable evidence into our hands quickly before that evidence disappears. One way we can do so is through the Open Records Act or Freedom of Information laws. Through the Open Records Act, lawyers can demand records and other materials that in the old days were impossible or nearly so to obtain. For instance, in DUI cases, after arrest, clients are booked into the local jail. Video of the jail book in process, fingerprinting, picture taking, etc., is recorded by multiple cameras at the jail and retained for a few days or weeks. After that, the video is erased. This video is something we can demand through the open records laws, well before the first court date. It is usually very helpful for our clients because it shows them appearing sober and acting normally, right after the arrest. This can counteract police claims that our clients appeared drunk or under the influence of drugs. The government’s routine destruction of such evidence during the regular course of business is one of the reasons that it is important to retain a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

People who work in government who refuse to turn over records and other materials to defense lawyers can be punished for committing a crime. That recently happened in the City of Atlanta where an assistant to the mayor refused to turn over records to a TV news reporter. The employee was arrested, went to trial, lost, and is now facing punishment for refusing to turn over records. This is very unusual. The Georgia Attorney General prosecuted the case against the city hall employee. Violation of the Open Records Act is a misdemeanor and can be punished with up to a year in jail. This made national news.

Cobb County Jail Conditions Are Intolerable

With an almost 24 hour lock-down of prisoners in their cells, at least four dead prisoners this year, and a beaten and hospitalized deputy, conditions at the Cobb County Jail are worse than they have been in modern memory.

The great majority of jail prisoners are there because they can’t afford to post bond or have no bond set. They have not yet had their trials. They are considered innocent under the law. Additionally, many of them are in jail because they have untreated psychiatric conditions that led directly to criminal charges. Other than short term misdemeanor punishments for DUIs and the like, jail is generally not supposed to be punishment. That’s why the sign at the jail says “Adult Detention Center.”

The sheriff says in this article that the jail is adequately staffed. However, he also states there are 71 job openings out of 512 total deputy positions. In light of the lock down this statement is contradictory.

The only possible explanation for locking down prisoners for 23 hours and 45 minutes a day in their jail cells, without family visitation, phone calls, or daily access to soap, is the jail is out of control.

The problem is not just with the sheriff’s department. For many years, Cobb County paid public safety employees as well as or better than any Georgia law enforcement agency. Not anymore. The police as well as the sheriff have a terrible retention problem. Too often when the county hires and trains police officers they go to another metro agency offering better benefits.

See: Marietta Daily Journal Article

What You Should Know About How Google Tracks You on Your Android Phone.

Google is providing law enforcement with a controversial new tool to aid in criminal investigations. Google geofencing is a privacy intrusion on anyone who owns an Android cellphone. Android is now the most popular smartphone operating system. It is important to be aware how Google’s geofencing works because it is in effect everywhere now.

Even if GPS tracking is off on your Android phone, the installed apps, by default, are constantly reporting back your approximate location to Google. This assists in search advertising, restaurant review, shopping, weather, and many other apps that depend on knowing your location in order work. They do so via local cell tower connection data Bluetooth, and wifi access points. Even if you have wifi turned off, Google occasionally turns it on and off. Your location information is stored in a “Sensorvault” maintained by Google, creating a log of where you were and when. Over time the Sensorvault creates a database that tends to show your travel habits.

Police agencies are using geofence data provided by Google to gather information regarding who was present at the scene of a crime. Say there was a murder at a mall. Google would provide the data to the police, who then know what Android cell phones were present at that time. Police analyze that data along with other leads to help determine who may have committed the crime. In Georgia the police do not need a search warrant or court order to get basic geofence information. However, other states have required court orders. Police are not just using this technique to investigate murders. They have used Sensorvault in auto theft cases as well.

The United States Supreme Court observed that detailed travel data like this can provide “an intimate window into a person’s life, revealing not only his particular movements, but through them his ‘familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.” Carpenter v. United States No. 16-402, 585 U.S. ____ (2018)

The Carpenter case ruled that the police must first get a search warrant or court order to obtain a specific named individual’s cellphone location records. However Carpenter is different than the geofence cases because it applies only to police getting a specific suspect’s information. The police need to show probable cause to believe that that that suspect’s cell phone location records constitute evidence of criminal activity. Geofence records on the other hand can lead to personal information about everybody present at a particular place and time.

There is no doubt that the United States and individual state supreme courts will have to rule on at what point will a search warrant be required in order for the police identify everyone present at the scene of a crime.

Congress is investigating.

Here is more information about Google Geofence and Sensorvault.

Gwinnett Judge Indicted for Allowing Sex Offender Access to Her Courthouse Computer

Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader was indicted for allowing a convicted child molester access to her office computer. Judge Schrader hired private investigator T.J. Ward who then hired the child molester and DragonCon founder, Ed Kramer, to examine her computer. Judge Schrader, Ward, and the child molester were all charged with three counts of computer trespass. She thought the Gwinnett D.A. was spying on her and hired these people to examine her computer. The molester copied some of her files. The files were found on the molester’s computer. Judge Schrader was released on $25,000 signature bond. Computer trespass is felony punishable with up to 15 years in prison.

An indictment is not a conviction.It is an accusation. Being indicted means that a group of citizens in the county, known as grand jurors, were secretly presented with facts alleging a serious crime by the district attorney, usually through a criminal investigator’s testimony. The citizens then secretly vote on whether probable cause exists to believe that testimony is true and that therefore the accused person should go to trial for the alleged crime. If the grand jurors decide that a crime probably occurred, then they return a “true bill” of indictment. This is what happens in most cases and what happened in this case. If the grand jurors do not believe that a crime occurred, they return a “no bill.” If a district attorney wants a case indicted, he or she usually can convince the grand jurors to return a true bill. A judge stated in an often cited federal case that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich if so desired.

Mother claims to be her daughter to avoid arrest

A demonstration of excellent police work. This woman was stopped by police in traffic. In her car were illegal drugs. There were outstanding warrants for the woman’s arrest. The woman allegedly told police that she was her daughter. Police then got suspicious, further investigated and compared her with a picture of her daughter. They then claimed the lady was not her daughter and arrested her. People do give police false names and information all the time in order to avoid prosecution. That’s not at all unusual. But this case is. Woman tries to avoid arrest and prosecution by claiming to be her own daughter.

Davis County Jail book in photo
Davis County Jail, Utah

She flipped the script on the cop

Two recent cases in the news point out how police solicit or engage in sexual activity with people they either encounter on the street or on the road in a traffic stop. This is done in exchange for not arresting or ticketing them. A case I defended involved the police officer’s receipt of a sexual favor in exchange for the driver believing she would not get a citation for speeding. However, to the driver’s shock, the officer still wrote her a ticket. She complained to the police about this and the case went to trial for sexual battery against the officer. The woman testified that the officer “flipped the script” on her because the implicit plan, or script, was she would allow him special “access” in exchange for overlooking the speeding infraction. The jury found the officer not guilty because the driver at the time consented to the officer taking liberties with her. Lawyers keep up with news contained in stories like following because it can immediately destroy all pending cases the officer made if it can be proven to have happened or if the officer is fired. Monroe County Sheriff, Cobb County Police incident

Cobb Following Gwinnett Lead, Has Stopped Making Misdemeanor Marijuana Arrests

Cobb County stopped making Misdemeanor Marijuana, less than an ounce, arrests. As explained in the post dealing with Gwinnett County, this is likely temporary until a procedure is set up to scientifically distinguish legal, low THC hemp, from marijuana. No word yet from the Cobb County cities of Marietta, Acworth, Smyrna, Kenensaw, Powder Springs, and Austell as to whether they will also stop making marijuana arrests as well. Georgia cities are heavily dependent on fines from these kinds of cases so it will be interesting to see how they would handle this potential loss of revenue.




police and marijuana

Gwinnett County Police Not Charging Marijuana Possession Cases

Because the Gwinnett Solicitor’s Office announced that the will not now prosecute marijuana possession cases because current Georgia testing can not differentiate between legal hemp and illegal marijuana, the Gwinnett County Police announced on Monday August 12th that they will not charge citizens for possession of marijuana.This is likely temporary until such time as a testing procedure is set up to distinguish between low THC hemp and higher THC marijuana. No word yet from the cities within the county as to whether they will follow suit. Cities are always hesitant to do anything that could potentially reduce revenue derived from criminal fines.

New hemp law results in dismissal of marijuana cases in Georgia

The Gwinnett County Solicitor’s Office in metro Atlanta and other prosecutor’s offices throughout Georgia are dismissing thousands of marijuana cases made since May 2019 because the State is unable to quantify the tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, content in the alleged marijuana seized. The new hemp farming law in Georgia defines the hemp plant as legal to possess, and not marijuana, if the THC concentration is .3% or lower. Marijuana THC levels can be up to 30%. Current lab tests being used in Georgia do not distinguish THC levels of concentration in the plant. However, tests can certainly be done. Therefore, until there is a scientific test available in Georgia to show THC concentration, and differentiate marijuana from hemp, it is likely that more prosecutors will be refusing to prosecute marijuana possession cases.

Gwinnett County Solicitor letter to judges stating marijuana cases will not be prosecuted