ShotSpotter Asks Court To Hold It In Contempt Rather Than Turn Over Information To Defense Lawyer
from the shotting-the-bed dept
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.
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.