Public Defenders Continue To Fight Back Against California's Broken Case Management Software

from the CRIMINAL-JUSTICE-SYSTEM-has-crashed.-Restore-from-backup? dept

In California, the future of criminal case management is now. But the future appears to be broken, and "now" is looking much worse than the recent past. Odyssey is the state's buggy new case management software -- one that's been keeping people from being released, putting people with dismissed charges in jail, and otherwise making the criminal justice system even more horrible than usual. Tyler Technologies, the creator of the software, has called this transition "challenging." (It's also called this rolling cockup a "transition," so…)

Public defenders -- already overworked when things are normal -- are the ones being tasked with sorting out a long stream of erroneous computations and attempting to make things right for the human beings on the receiving end. This is an additional workload public defenders didn't need.

Since [December 2016], the public defender’s office has filed approximately 2,000 motions informing the court that, due to its reportedly imperfect software, many of its clients have been forced to serve unnecessary jail time, be improperly arrested, or even wrongly registered as sex offenders.

The court's response to multiple pleas by public defenders to force someone in the Californian government to clean up this mess? Shit happens. Deal with it.

Although the court recognizes that Odyssey has resulted in unlawful arrests and searches, clerical errors that affect a defendant's Fourth Amendment right to privacy will occur regardless of the case management system used by the court.

Understandably, this non-redress of grievances failed to satisfy public defenders. Cyrus Farivar reports they're headed back to court to appeal the court's do-nothing order.

“These delays and errors violate Government Code § 69844’s express requirement that Superior Court clerks enter judicial orders ‘forthwith,’ as well as the constitutional right to a complete and accurate record on appeal and the Fourth Amendment prohibition upon unlawful arrests and illegal searches,” Charles Denton, an assistant public defender, wrote in his April 10 brief.

The more significant point of the filing [PDF] is this: without pressure from the courts, the problems created (and exacerbated) by the new case management software's rollout will continue to snowball.

For, as we have noted, respondent’s staff concedes that, without a change in software or staffing, it will never be able to “provide a complete and fully accurate record of court proceedings”... The numbers bear this out. The bottleneck in processing commitment orders for the more than 100 state prisoners languishing in county jail is months long, and, seven months after Odyssey’s rollout, there is an ever-growing backlog of more than 12,000 “paperless” files that are missing minute orders, filings, and transcripts.

At this point, being booked in Alameda County is to be forcibly subjected to a malfunctioning criminal justice slot machine. Maybe it will pay off for a few people, but the odds are still on the house. A system that's already largely broken doesn't need assistance from outside vendors' buggy software.


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 8 May 2017 @ 4:45am

    Excuse me but wouldn't the system be erring to the bad people as well? Maybe they should be asking the court if it's ok that the system may mistakenly release a convicted sex offender? Or some child molester? Or some repeat murderer?

    I'd be surprised if the answer was the same 'deal with it'.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 9 May 2017 @ 6:29am

      Re:

      I'm pretty sure the bad code looks something like:


      OnError GoTo DefendentHasCommittedFelony

      ...

      Break

      DefendentHasCommittedFelony:

      MarkDefendentAsSexOffender()
      ThrowBook ()

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2017 @ 5:54am

    " due to its reportedly imperfect software, many of its clients have been forced to serve unnecessary jail time, be improperly arrested, or even wrongly registered as sex offenders."

    Looks to be operating as designed ... sad, bigly sad.

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

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 8 May 2017 @ 6:24am

    It isn't just the courts

    I've seen this attitude in all levels of customer interaction, in all aspects of society, for years. Is there a problem? Utter the words "it's the software that won't let me help you" and you can handwave away all sorts of things. You can even do things that, by law, should result in prison time, with those words and that handwave.

    Remember the foreclosure scandal a few years back, where robo-signing software was attesting under penalty of perjury that the company operating it owned the mortgage and the mortgage was in default and therefore the company could lawfully foreclose -- only for it to later come to light that the property in question had a fully paid-off mortgage or had never been mortgaged at all? I even recall one incident where a company foreclosed on itself. But because it was a computer program doing it, the facts that software is created by people and computers only do what they're told to do was handwaved into no actual people being sent to prison for it -- even though doing it just once (instead of thousands of times) without the computer program would be worth 5-10 years in prison!

    People talk to company sales reps on the phone all the time, where the company rep promises them the moon to get them to agree to service, only for them to be locked into a contract that doesn't even slightly resemble what the salesman promised. And even though those promises are binding on the company, the company's computer system won't let the customer service reps give the customer what was promised. And so a breach of contract is handwaved away -- most customers being unaware that that would also allow them to get out of the false contract without an Early Termination Fee. To companies that's a feature not a bug, and the fact that it's (at best) a shady business practice if not outright fraud is, again, handwaved away and blamed on a computer that is only doing what the people that own it told it to do.

    And now we have a similar situation in the criminal (in)justice system. A trial that is conducted in a way that violates the constitution or statutory law is a mistrial at best, not a successful trial. Its findings of fact and the orders issued accordingly are INVALIDATED by the mistrial. But that all gets handwaved away, because a computer did it, not a real person -- and you can't put a computer server in a jail cell.

    But you could put the person who 'conspires' with that computer to violate rights in a cell. You could also put the head of the programming department of the company that wrote the software that has been instructed to violate rights in the adjacent cell. But for some reason, because a computer is involved that is doing nothing more and nothing less than what is has been explicitly told to do is involved, no one is to blame. Somehow.

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

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 8 May 2017 @ 7:04am

      Re: It isn't just the courts

      ...where robo-signing software was attesting under penalty of perjury that the company operating it owned the mortgage and the mortgage was in default..

      That wasn't software. The robo-signers were all human. In every case, robo-signing involved real people signing documents and swearing to their accuracy without verifying any of the information.

      Software can only be tangentially blamed, for allowing unskilled people to pretend to do a job. But that was nothing new. As the The Computer Contradictionary put it back in 1995:

      Spreadsheet (v.) The distribution of manure. (n.) A tool widely regarded as the cause of the savings & loan crisis of the 1980's. It allowed users to run "what if" scenerios, but lacked a feature telling "why not".

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

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 8 May 2017 @ 7:42am

        Re: Re: It isn't just the courts

        True, but they did use software to do it so QUICKLY. Some ofn the highest producers of bad attestations 'signed' more than one per second on some days. You can't even rubber stamp something as fast as they were going, they were using a computer to do it.

        Doing it once is criminal fraud and perjury -- two felonies for the price of one. Doing it thousands of times on a computer? *handwave* Nothing to see here, no crimes committed.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2017 @ 10:24am

          Re: Re: Re: It isn't just the courts

          and why are none of those banksters in jail ... because they have friends in high places I guess, because anyone else would get "the book" thrown in their face.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2017 @ 10:49am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: It isn't just the courts

            Because no matter which party you like more, they are not really that different. If they were, then one of that would have brought on prosecution.

            Additionally, the court system is a justice for money scam now. Much harder to prosecute the people donating to your platform, and much hard to prosecute people with enough money to buy 5 lawyers for defense you.

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

            • icon
              Roger Strong (profile), 8 May 2017 @ 11:06am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: It isn't just the courts

              Because no matter which party you like more, they are not really that different.

              The Democrats are not really that different than 1980s Republicans.

              But the Republicans have move on, declaring jihad against their own policies including health care as Democrats adopted them. Calling the Democrats no different from the party of Trump/Bannon, let alone Cruz/Palin, takes a special blend of delusion, denial and pig-ignorance.

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

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2017 @ 12:35pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: It isn't just the courts

                Yes, they at times appear to be guilty of similar infractions - but one really needs to look below the surface before drawing such a conclusion. Here you will find plenty of differences, some of which may make you sick to your stomach.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2017 @ 9:35am

      Re: It isn't just the courts

      An old favorite rears it head. A long time ago I worked in accounting and had to collect money from our customers. Our terms were 1% 10 / net 30. The tech companies were the best. They'd pay you in 60-days and take a 2% discount.

      Eventually I called one of them up and the answer was that it's just how our software is programmed, nothing we can do about it. And what terms do you give your customers? I'm betting it's not the same. And, if I'm fair, the person I was talking to probably had no say in how the computer was set up.

      Anyways, it's the computer, not my fault, has been happening since, well, computers happened.

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

  • icon
    Kay (profile), 8 May 2017 @ 6:42am

    How does software even do this?

    I would love to know a bit more about the technical details that have caused these issues. I wonder if, when the new software was adopted, a full conversion of the old data was done. It's hard to imagine what kind of an error would cause someone to be mistakenly identified as a sex offender, unless there is actually incorrect data being captured/input somewhere.

    Without knowing more information it's hard to know whether the software vendor or gov't agency is at fault (or both). But, you have to wonder if there isn't a lawsuit against Tyler Technologies that's in the works...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2017 @ 10:53am

      Re: How does software even do this?

      Don't assume that because someone can write code they can do it well.

      Don't assume that because someone has a degree, a doctorate, or scientific credentials that they know what they are talking about or are free from corrupting influences. In most cases, if you life depends on being corrupt, and it usually does and in multiple ways people cannot fathom then you are corrupt yourself. Fighting corruption is difficult, very difficult.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2017 @ 11:17am

        Re: Re: How does software even do this?

        The usual problems with writing code for the government, are the code is specified by the managers, and the users are and the managers keep changing the specification. This means that those who actually understand how the system should work, the records clerks, are never consulted, but just told to deal with the new system.

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

      • icon
        Kay (profile), 8 May 2017 @ 12:22pm

        Re: Re: How does software even do this?

        Well, their RESPONSE to the problems could be called corruption but the actual implementation itself is more likely due to project management mishaps, vendor culpability, business process issues and lack of testing.

        Whoever was responsible for the interface between Odyssey and that CRIMS (I think it was called that, the system the public defender uses) system obviously borked it up. I'm guessing that was written by the vendor.

        But, from reading the motion that the public defenders filed in court, apparently entering data into the new system is complex and time consuming. That problem was probably detected in early testing - unless there was no early testing.

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

        • icon
          Eldakka (profile), 8 May 2017 @ 5:39pm

          Re: Re: Re: How does software even do this?

          They probably didn't do a real-world user throughput type test.

          They probably tested that every individual task/case type can be entered, and probably did automated throughput testing (the system can process x-number of transactions/hour).

          But they probably never got an actual average user to sit there with their daily load and see how long it would take them to process, from a human/user perspective of entering data etc, a normal full days load.

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

  • identicon
    Paul Clark, 8 May 2017 @ 7:28am

    File a Class Action Lawsuit

    The people wronged by the software system should file a class action lawsuit for a ridiculously large amount of money against the state and the company who wrote the software. That would at least get the attention of the people doing the hand having and the company. Nothing destroys a business model faster than public accusations that your product is crap. I worked for years in software development. There is no excuse for this except negligence on someone's part. We are way beyond the time in the software industry that you get just claim that "its hard".

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2017 @ 12:59pm

      Re: File a Class Action Lawsuit

      "Nothing destroys a business model faster than public accusations that your product is crap.

      Then explain to me how SAP still exists. YOU CAN'T CHECKMATE ATHEISTS

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

  • identicon
    Jordan Chandler, 8 May 2017 @ 9:07am

    justice

    It is clear that nobody involved in the process of Law is interested in Justice.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 May 2017 @ 10:15am

    Sometimes the only way to get them to understand is to give them a ride in the system.

    Imagine how fast the Judges would demand change if they were suddenly trapped in the system.

    It would be a pity if some erroneous data was entered into the system and some Judges had to sit in jail until the system fixed itself.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 May 2017 @ 1:09pm

    "It's a horrible problem that we could do something about, but eh, don't care."

    Although the court recognizes that Odyssey has resulted in unlawful arrests and searches, clerical errors that affect a defendant's Fourth Amendment right to privacy will occur regardless of the case management system used by the court.

    As excuses go that one goes straight past dismissive and nosedives into horrifying. 'Unlawful arrests and searches' would be a serious problem no matter what case management system was used, that it might not be better under another does not magically make the fact that it's happening under this one any less of a huge problem.

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

    • icon
      The Wanderer (profile), 9 May 2017 @ 4:41am

      Re: "It's a horrible problem that we could do something about, but eh, don't care."

      While this is true, if the case at hand was a challenge to the case-management system being used - which is how I read it, without digging deeper than this article - the court's response is still apropos.

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


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