ShotSpotter Asks Court To Hold It In Contempt Rather Than Turn Over Information To Defense Lawyer

from the shotting-the-bed dept

ShotSpotter — the gunshot analytic company with the rather sketchy reputation — is, once again, endearing itself to the public by doing things that seem… well… sketchy.

On Friday, an attorney representing ShotSpotter, a gunshot-detection technology company, made the unusual request that a judge in a criminal case hold the company in contempt of court to prevent ShotSpotter from being compelled to release documents about how it assesses gunshot alerts. 

The request is unusual in the sense that it doesn’t happen often. (It’s not unusual in terms of the judicial process. ShotSpotter has no way to directly challenge this discovery request. Asking to be held in contempt gives it an avenue to challenge the request by challenging the contempt order. Yes, it’s all very circuitous but that’s why you really want to hire a lawyer if you find yourself interacting with the criminal justice system or the US legal system in general.) And the reason it doesn’t happen often is because normally discovery requests in criminal trials target information held by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors.

But it’s bound to become less unusual as law enforcement agencies place greater reliance on private companies to do their investigative and analytic work for them. That means more private contractors will be inserting themselves into court cases solely for the purpose of denying defendants (and FOIA requesters) access to information that’s being paid for with public funds.

That’s what appears to be happening here. A man arrested and charged with driving under the influence was apparently stopped by officers because he happened to be near a gunshot reported by Chicago’s ShotSpotter system. If so, then it provides an opportunity to challenge the stop since it doesn’t appear the crime charged had anything to do with the reported gunshot. And it’s a well-known fact cops have been instructed (or simply chosen) to view anyone near the area of a reported gunshot as innately suspicious.

It’s also a known fact (taken directly from ShotSpotter expert testimony in court) that the company will sometimes alter gunshot reports at the request of police officers.

What the defense is seeking is anything that calls ShotSpotter’s analytics and reports into question. Eight Chicago PD officers responded to a ShotSpotter alert. Two of those officers arrested the defendant a few blocks away from the alleged gunshot.

The defense’s request included ShotSpotter analysts’ qualifications and training materials; any instances in which the company’s analysts reclassified alerts or the Chicago police asked ShotSpotter to do so; and the methods analysts use to reclassify alerts. The defense also requested ShotSpotter produce any data on sensors misidentifying gunfire or the location of alerts, as well as data on gunfire ShotSpotter failed to identify.

It’s tough to say what a judge will find admissible, but ShotSpotter’s past history suggests it is willing in some cases to alter reports to justify arrests that have already occurred. If the PD contacted ShotSpotter post-arrest to get a report altered, it may show officers had no reasonable suspicion to stop the arrestee — a stop that resulted in his arrest.

For whatever reason, the adage tossed at us by authoritarians, cops (but I repeat myself), and developers of pervasive surveillance tech — “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” — never seems to apply to the people delivering this phrase. ShotSpotter could turn over these records, ask a judge to determine whether any of it can be legitimately redacted, and let the whole thing play out.

Instead, ShotSpotter has asked to be held in contempt of court — a strategic move that plays within the confines of the legal system while simultaneously making it clear the company will do whatever it can to keep information about its activities from making its way into the hands of the people who are actually paying for its services: the general public, including those who have been arrested with the apparent assistance of tech they’re not being allowed to examine in court.

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Companies: shotspotter

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Comments on “ShotSpotter Asks Court To Hold It In Contempt Rather Than Turn Over Information To Defense Lawyer”

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18 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Thanks for yet another reminder

Really ShotSpotter you don’t need to keep telling people, in court no less that your product is utterly and completely incapable of standing up under even the slightest bit of scrutiny, at this point I imagine anyone who’s paid even passing interest in your shenanigans in court will know that.

At this point there really is no valid reasons for a city/department to use this company’s product, with the only two I can think of being gross negligence in researching the company before buying their service or a city/department using them because they are so good for corrupt departments.

When a company is that desperate to keep the records of what and how they work out of court despite assuring the legal system that it’s perfectly valid to use against people in that same court it’s pretty obvious even they know it would not survive any amount of examination.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

I’m getting really fed up with this “trade secrets” are more important than civil rights nonsense. That’s absurd. In this particular situation, where they’ve admitted that they sometimes alter reports, someone’s freedom is at risk. If they don’t provide the subpoenaed materials, he’s innocent. At least that’s the way it ought to work, presuming that our legal system respects the principles espoused in the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, which is increasingly doubtful.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Different

This is a rather unique variation. For sure
An no, read on, I’m not supporting SC here.

I wonder if they are much involved at all and where the defence is going with this.

Officers called to scene A and happening upon scene B do not make scene B any less a concern.
Responding to a (legitimate or not) SC notice and happening upon a drunk driver showing signs of being a drunk driver…. Are exclusive.

If officers are called to a domestic and happen upon a bank robbery along the way

If officers are called to a fake domestic swatting and happen upon a gun fight before reaching the destination.

Ultimately, what this respond shows is that SC is full of shite and totally corrupt. The only reason to refuse demand is to hide some level of error or fraud. Self protection from public release.

Here’s a reason to hate them! They let a criminal scum drunk driver walk to protect the well-known lack of accuracy in their product!??!

Naughty Autie says:

Re:

They let a criminal scum drunk driver walk to protect the well-known lack of accuracy in their product!??!

And if they reveal the (lack of) evidence, the driver also walks. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. The organisation you should hate is the police. They’re the ones that decided to mention ShotSpotter and put the whole case in jeopardy.

Ernie Gordon (profile) says:

If this case is pending in Illinois, the penalty for criminal contempt of court is $500 or 180 days in jail. The financial penalty is inconsequential, but the court could and should order the ShotSpotter CEO into court and remand them into custody per their request – no hearing is needed when a party before a court is asking for court ordered action against them. That would get the ShotSpotter analytics and reports released ASAP.

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