Bad Software Landing Innocent People In Jail Gets Judge’s OK For Continued Use

Published June 29, 2017
Updated June 30, 2017

A California court ruled that software leading to wrongful arrests doesn't need to get the boot.

College Court

CollegeDegrees360 / Flickr

A software system meant to speed up the criminal justice process has resulted in several miscarriages of justice — and a court has opted to continue to use it.

Indeed, a California appeals court has just declined to overturn a ruling by the Alameda County Superior Court that would keep in place a court computer system that has resulted in wrongful arrests.

This appeal is the latest in a court case in California, where public defender Brendon Woods has claimed that the software used to process court documents has led to a number of damaging mistakes, and demanded that the courts switch to a more reliable program.

Woods claims that the software, known as Odyssey Court Manager and implemented in August of 2016, has issued warrants for people who have already received warrants; led to extensions of jail sentences; changed misdemeanors to felonies on rap sheets, and registered people as sexual offenders who were not required to register themselves as sexual offenders.

This same system has been implemented in a number of smaller courts throughout the nation, where it could potentially be wreaking the same havoc.

This specific case began when the courtroom software reissued a warrant for one of Woods’ clients, a 24-year-old college student wanted for a drug possession charge. The charges were later dropped, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported. But after the software reissued the warrant after the case’s dismissal, Woods’ client was arrested at his house and had to spend a night in jail before he could be bailed out.

Unfortunately, this is just one story amid a spate of similar software-induced nightmares. As the Chronicle reported, there are at least 52 confirmed cases where the software has led to wrongful arrests — though some public defenders believe the figure is much higher.

Whether through software glitches or an interface that allows for greater human error, Woods argued that the system has resulted in a number of incidents where people’s lives have been damaged — and thus the software must be improved or tossed out.

Despite the evidence, the Alameda County Superior Court and California’s First District Court of Appeals have both refused to intervene and force the Alameda County Courts to fix their faulty software.

The courts argue that since individual cases can still appeal the mistakes made through the system — the result of a $4.5 million deal with tech firm Tyler Technologies — there is no reason to force the court system to change its courtroom management system.

The decision reflects a disturbing attitude among many in the criminal justice system, who do not feel that the protection of the rights of those accused of crimes is a priority.

“It is inconceivable that we would allow ‘technology’ to inadvertently put someone behind bars. We should all be outraged, and immediate action needs to be taken,” Dennis Cuevas-Romero, a spokesman for the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, told Ars Technica.

“All lives matter, especially those who are being wrongfully put behind bars due to computer problems. The local court is fully aware of this problem, and if it chooses not to take action it would not only be irresponsible but potentially require legal action.”

Next, read about other injustices in the criminal justice system like this man being arrested for not having an ID on him. Then, read how the City of Oakland is attempting to reform its police department by hiring ex-cons oversee the police.

Gabe Paoletti
Gabe is a New York City-based writer and an Editorial Intern at All That Is Interesting.