Court Case Management Software Upgrade Results In Bogus Felony Convictions, Wrongful Arrests

from the patch-notes-to-be-entered-as-evidence-in-inevitable-civil-lawsuit dept

Software updates are seldom painless. The history of the Windows operating system is littered with stories of computers/programs bricked by auto-update patches and OS iterations. They're not much fun on the IT end either, especially when businesses depend on functioning computers/programs for pretty much everything. An enterprise-level OS upgrade can take days or weeks -- and that's not counting the aftershocks which continue for months after as every interdependent application finds new and exciting ways to clash with the upgraded system software.

Days, weeks, months chewed up by an upgrade. It's horrible, but hey, at least you're still relatively free to step outside periodically and/or exit the building when you've had enough for one day. It could be much much worse.

Take the example of Andrew.

It was Saturday and he was woken up with a start by his mother. There were four officers at the front door and he was about to be arrested.

"I’d only had four hours sleep and I’m only wearing gym shorts,” he recalled.

“I’m thinking, what happened? I was completely confused.”

Unbeknown to his parents, 24-year-old Andrew - not his real name - had recently finished a six-month drug programme after he was caught in possession of marijuana and ecstasy.

Which is why he was so confused. It was his first offence and he had done the course as asked. A judge had then told him the case had been dismissed.

“I did what I was supposed to."

But the court’s new computer system had other ideas and Andrew was put into a police car and driven off to jail.

The computer system is Odyssey, California's new case management software. So far, attempts to integrate it with the existing system have resulted in multiple rejections of the donor. If this had only resulted in a less smoothly-flowing bureaucracy, that would be one thing. Instead, it's ruining people's lives.

The company behind it -- Tyler Technologies -- calls the transition "challenging." That's one way to put it -- a way that only those not adversely affected by the transition can put it. To those on the receiving end of a raft of new case management errors, the transition can more accurately be described as "nightmarish." In addition to the case described above, the upgrade has resulted in wrongful arrests, incorrectly extended sentences, and misdemeanor offenses being reclassified as felonies.

Nothing on this list of problems could be considered a harmless error. The last one on the list could result in job hunters, prospective tenants, parents in custody battles, etc. being kicked to the curb when their moving violations show up in background check systems as serious felonies.

On the plus [?] side, Odyssey's malfunctioning software has also managed to produce a few criminal justice "winners."

Alameda County is not the only area to have struggled with Odyssey. Similar problems have been reported in Tennessee and also in Indiana - where prosecutors have had a perhaps more troubling issue of inmates being mistakenly released early.

The software will continue to be upgraded and lives will be bricked. Those the software has determined need more time served or felonies added to their record are pretty much on their own. Alameda County public defender Brendon Woods is fielding as many cases as he can, but he seems to be one of the only ones interested in assisting victims of a "challenging" system upgrade. The county itself isn't offering anything to these victims and the software company certainly doesn't want to open itself up to liability by admitting any culpability in this debacle.

The criminal justice system barely works. The last thing it needs is software that makes this even worse.


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  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 8:44am

    Software Bug Ticket

    Won't Fix. Software working as intended.

    It's not a bug, it's a feature.

    Use Case: Our 'for profit' prisons need to maintain fewest possible vacant cells. More prisoners means more revenue, higher profits, executive bonuses, and greater shareholder value, and thus it's good for 'everyone'. Those are are wrongly arrested due to 'errors' are generally released in a very short time, so no harm is done.

    Issue ticket closed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 9:06am

    Wait, wait. Are all the errors screwing the citizens or I"m hallucinating? Is there any case where the system actually benefit a real criminal?

    If no, can we see a pattern here?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2016 @ 9:24am

      Re:

      "Similar problems have been reported in Tennessee and also in Indiana - where prosecutors have had a perhaps more troubling issue of inmates being mistakenly released early." So, no, sometimes it does benefit the criminal.

      (Of course, if they realize the mistake and the criminal gets re-arrested right after getting a new job, it's hard to say he "benefited" from that mistaken release.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Oninoshiko (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 9:43am

      Re:

      Seems not to be the case in Tenn.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 10:30am

      Re:

      Yes, the errors are all in one direction.

      But it is a quick fix until the education system can catch up and do its job.

      The education system is supposed to produce a certain percent of graduates that are destined to keep the 'for profit' prisons full. The remaining graduates must be just employable enough to pay taxes to operate the for profit prisons.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 9:08am

    This is idiotic. Especially when there are already known problems.

    Why these particular kinds of errors even? Why continue using it after problems are exposed? Why even transition to production use in the first place when it should be running only to check it against the existing system?

    Yes this happens as SOP most everywhere, and software tends to follow the good-enough model (just barely, or not really, apparently counts also), but seriously in mission-critical infrastructure...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2016 @ 9:22am

      Re:

      Why continue using it after problems are exposed?

      Management has spent a fortune on the system, and they will not admit that it is money wasted, instead, they insist that it is used.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 12:43pm

        Re: Re:

        More importantly, it's not like the management are the ones who will be facing down wrongful arrests and felony charges from a faulty system, so why should they care?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2016 @ 9:31am

    Working as intended...

    The Justice System is a joke... not sure why we would think they would not have a joke for a management system to match it.

    Every Nation gets the government it deserves!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2016 @ 9:36am

      Re: Working as intended...

      Every Nation gets the government it deserves!

      But it's much more like every nation get the government that can force its way into power, and stay there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 12:48pm

      Re: Working as intended...

      Ah Joseph, we meet again...

      Hypothetical time:

      If 51 people out of 100 vote and decide to punch the other 49 in the face, do the 49 deserve to get punched in the face?

      If you're in a group of 10 people and 7 of them vote to rob you blind, do you deserve what's about to happen to you?

      If you're presented with two choices, being shot in the left leg or being shot in the right leg, and 'Neither' is not an option, do you deserve to have your leg shot?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2016 @ 2:28pm

        Re: Re: Working as intended...

        Answer Time:

        If 51 people out of 100 vote and decide to punch the other 49 in the face, do the 49 deserve to get punched in the face?

        Of course they do, 51 voted for it and they are the majority and must of had a good reason to vote this way. This is a democracy not a fair dinkum republic.

        If you're in a group of 10 people and 7 of them vote to rob you blind, do you deserve what's about to happen to you?

        Of you deserve it. 7 out of 10 can't be wrong.

        If you're presented with two choices, being shot in the left leg or being shot in the right leg, and 'Neither' is not an option, do you deserve to have your leg shot?

        You must have done something wrong or otherwise they would have shot you in the head.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hoare (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 9:57am

    Yakima, WA started implementing Odyssey 2 years ago. The clerk elected in 2014 has had nothing but problems. The County Commissioners and Judges threatened her when she decided to get rid of the software. She hired her own lawyer and they locked her out of the courthouse for bringing her own lawyer into the workplace to see what was going on.

    http://www.yakimaherald.com/news/local/aoc-blasts-riddle-for-not-taking-training-then-blaming-pro blems/article_7332e394-3ff6-11e6-875e-5bbe8336eaa4.html

    "The letter questions whether Riddle intended to wrongfully blame Odyssey or if she was misquoted or her comments were taken out of context.

    District Court Judge Kevin Roy, as well as several others who were at the meeting, said Riddle did blame Odyssey for the problems."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Cressman, 5 Dec 2016 @ 10:23am

    That's because they are morons

    The issues are because the software developers are morons. As a developer of 20+ years, with a large scale migration like this, you'd upgrade the system in parallel and work them in tandem for a while until you were sure of the results. I've done it multiple times with large medical systems - which are equally important (if not more so) but not as widely impacting as a statewide judicial system.

    To try to jam a system like this into place without testing and trail migrations is the action of morons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 10:43am

      Re: That's because they are morons

      When I read about this last week, one of the things I seem to remember was that some warrants incorrectly seemed active, because the warrant had been quashed during the time of the data migration to the new system.

      On a system this large, and this important, how could you NOT have a migration path that would account for this?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2016 @ 11:06am

      Re: That's because they are morons

      >The issues are because the software developers are morons.

      When an external company is used to develop software, managers on both sides usually effectively isolate the software developers from the actual end users, and then send in the marketing types to sell the new system to the users. The software developers in such a situation are limited ti implementing the specified system,, and trying to fix problems as reported by marketing.
      Obvious such a situation does tend to lead to any average and above software developers moving on to better jobs. However the real problem is not the developers, but rather how the development is (mis)managed by two sets of managers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2016 @ 5:48pm

      Re: That's because they are morons

      I worked with government systems for more than a decade and a half. In that time, the only systems implementation I ever saw go without major issues were those done and managed completely in house. Anytime upper management or vendors were involved, the process was absolutely and completely horrible.

      I hired on in the private sector and ran across someone from a major vendor that I had dealt with before. I asked them "Why is it that you were almost the only person from (vendor) I dealt with that wasn't a complete fsck up?" I asked. The reply was "Everyone else you dealt with was assigned to Government clients. Without exception, people assigned to Government are those that are too stupid to work at (vendor) and are on their way out. You only got me because at the time there wasn't anyone in the Government section, they'd all been fired."

      I'm being careful not to name the vendor obviously, because I think it very likely I'd regret naming them. But you'd know the name. I think our spend with them averaged over 22 million a year.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Dec 2016 @ 11:59am

    Someone needs to go to Jail for this....

    For every person wrongfully incarcerated or arrested, the CEO of the the company(John S Marr Jr) should spend the same amount of time in jail, day for day, hour for hour.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 1:00pm

      Re: Someone needs to go to Jail for this....

      While that would motivate the CEO to see about 'updating' the software, a better choice would probably to apply that equal jail time punishment to the prosecutors, police and judges who use and approve the software.

      Throw them in a cell, and let them know that it will happen every time someone is wrongfully incarcerated/jailed and you can bet that they'll lose their enthusiasm for the software right quick.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 12:22pm

    Learning programming

    I remember Learning programming..
    And they would give us a Data set to USE and DISPLAY in certain ways..

    The only WAY this could happen, is IF' they didnt read/open the data set properly..OR the data set is Encrypted, and they DONT have the proper way to OPEN IT...

    This is JUST STUPID...as the company would HAVE a pert/portion/Sample of the data needed, and SHOULD HAVE run samples and such until it was running properly..
    This is as bad as the gaming industry...EVERYTHING is alpha And beta and not fully working..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 12:51pm

    Let's have some more of these types of 'glitches'

    Alameda County is not the only area to have struggled with Odyssey. Similar problems have been reported in Tennessee and also in Indiana - where prosecutors have had a perhaps more troubling issue of inmates being mistakenly released early.

    The prosecutors likely aren't going to lose much sleep over someone wrongly arrested and/or jailed, but criminals being let out early? That they'll care about enough to look into the problem, so hopefully that becomes the 'standard' glitch in the software to the point that they can no longer ignore it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 1:50pm

    The perspective of "more troubling" is deeply wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 1:55pm

    The perspective of "more troubling" is deeply wrong.

    Would you be more troubled if an innocent person wrongly spent a week in jail, or a guilty one was released early (likely to probation).

    To me the choice is clear -- mistakenly jailing the innocent is morally wrong. Occasionally releasing the convicted is roughly akin to a pardon, which is generally viewed favorably.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 4:12pm

      "It is better that 9 innocent people be jailed than 1 guilty person get out before their sentence is over."

      Wow, I completely missed that the first time around. Yeah, that they see jailing someone wrongly as better than someone getting out early displays a seriously messed up sense of priorities.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2016 @ 9:49am

    OSS

    Yet another example how open source software in government could be beneficial.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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