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Data Entry Errors Resulted In Improper Sentences

kdawson posted more than 3 years ago | from the month-here-a-month-there dept.

The Courts 138

shrik writes "Slate has a look at the efforts of Emily Owens, in 2005 a Ph.D student in economics at the University of Maryland, who 'came across thousands of inconsistencies and errors in the sentencing recommendations provided to judges' by the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy. Quoting: 'The sentencing guidelines for judges were based on a work-sheet [PDF] that "graded the severity of a convict's crime and his risk to society", ostensibly to make the rulings meted out more objective in nature. But on carefully studying her data, Owens noticed something wasn't adding up — the system seemed to be producing 1 error in every ten trials. She also realized that this "recommendation system" actually mattered: crimes and criminals analyzed to be quite similar were resulting in systematically different punishments correlated with the work-sheet.' The source of these discrepancies was ultimately found to be a simple, but very significant, PEBKAC: 'More than 90 percent of errors resulted from the person completing the work sheet [usually the DA, but signed off by the defense attorney] entering the figure from a cell next to the correct one. ... The remaining errors came mostly from incorrect choice of criminal statute in calculating the offense score and from a handful of math errors (in operations that were literally as simple as adding two plus two).' Timo Elliott's BI Questions Blog lists the morals of the story."

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138 comments

isn't that why we have judges (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29845829)

Isn't the reason we have judges because no algorithm is perfect?

Re:isn't that why we have judges (3, Interesting)

Deag (250823) | more than 3 years ago | (#29845889)

I thought this would be one reason you are paying a defense lawyer, to check this type of stuff.

Re:isn't that why we have judges (4, Insightful)

conureman (748753) | more than 3 years ago | (#29845955)

That one in ten cases is incorrectly sentenced by this system says to me that some of the attorneys are filling these forms out; When the clerks take care of it, they usually get it right.

Re:isn't that why we have judges (5, Insightful)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846329)

How many lawyers are modding today? Whoever is modding this down is in denial. I've worked for a law school, a law firm, and independent lawyer, and a state bar association, and I can vouch that the parent is absolutely correct. Lawyers are good at arguments, not book keeping.

Re:isn't that why we have judges (2, Interesting)

DaveGod (703167) | more than 3 years ago | (#29849159)

I work as an accountant with several lawyers as clients, and I can also vouch that lawyers are no good at bookkeeping but are good at arguing.

Incidentally, someone made a joke about Excel but actually computerised systems are quite handy for having built-in controls such as exception reports (sanity checks) and so on. Most importantly, the computer always bothers to actually perform the checks.

p.s. What is ethnicity, race and indigence (poverty) doing on "Maryland's Sentencing Guides Worksheet"?

Re:isn't that why we have judges (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29846565)

Title should be "Data entry errors used as excuse for inappropriate sentences".

Re:isn't that why we have judges (1)

camperslo (704715) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847273)

That one in ten cases is incorrectly sentenced by this system says to me that some of the attorneys are filling these forms out; When the clerks take care of it, they usually get it right.

It can be the hired help too. Attorneys are often too good to do any of the actual work themselves.

I encountered a friend I hadn't seen in a long time who sadly had become a meth addict. But he was well spoken and good looking and managed to get a job in a law office. But he complained about the work, how he'd forget what people said before he got phone messages written down, etc. I saw him one day just before he headed to work and I asked him how long it'd been since he'd slept. FIVE DAYS! He was a walking zombie.

I once met another person that worked at home doing contract work filling out legal forms, mostly real-estate related. He was doing it while chatting online and watching porn.

Condition causing strange things to be typed while watching or having sex:

Lickdicksia

Re:isn't that why we have judges (1)

conureman (748753) | more than 3 years ago | (#29848123)

It COULD be the help, but if it is,I don't think the failure rate would be that high. I've been around Law Firms just a bit, and was struck by the amazing competence of the "help" vs: the pathetic fail that is: most people in most fields. Also, by the amazing nincompoopery of MOST of the Bar members I've met. I've only dealt with three reasonably competent lawyers in my life, and people treated them like Clarence Darrow for being merely competent. YMMV.

Re:isn't that why we have judges (4, Insightful)

mark_hill97 (897586) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846077)

A good lawyer is expensive, some criminals can't afford good ones. Instead they end up with overworked public defenders who might have read the case file before going into the court.

Re:isn't that why we have judges (4, Interesting)

nietsch (112711) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847123)

And that is exactly what is wrong with your system. If you can afford a better lawyer that gets you a lower or no sentence, that means you have class justice. Maybe not class as in the classical sense with aristocracy etc, but class as in how much money you can get together (by yourself or your direct environment). Home of the free eh? It seems only if you (or your parents) can afford it. (nearly) 1% of the population behind bars is an awful lot and compares very bad with the rest of the world.

Re:isn't that why we have judges (2, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847633)

Maybe not class as in the classical sense with aristocracy etc, but class as in how much money you can get together (by yourself or your direct environment).

Actually, since old aristocracy was made of those rich enough to be able to afford their own private army, or at the very least a horse and armor at the very bottom, I'd say it's class justice in every sense of the word.

(nearly) 1% of the population behind bars is an awful lot and compares very bad with the rest of the world.

Yes, but making both the rich and the poor equal before law would require for the state to pay for all the expenses of the trial - yes, even for the losing side, since otherwise the rich can afford to try defend themselves even if victory is not certain, while the poor can't - which sounds like socialism, which is evil. Furthermore, to actually pay for this would require taxation, which is stealing and thus also evil.

Compared to these horrible evils, surely you must agree that locking up or executing innocent or at least undeserving people is far better? Injustice and a huge wrongfully convicted prison population are the price of freedom!

Re:isn't that why we have judges (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29848049)

Public defenders have a bad reputation in the US, but the reality is often different. I saw a tragic case a few years ago where the accused was represented by a public defender. The DA offered a plea deal: 6 months in prison. The guy's family freaked out and hired the best attorney money could buy. Ultimate result? Two years in prison.

Public defenders are in court all the time. Even though they may not spend the most time on a particular case, they have a lot more experience than private attorneys because they handle a lot more cases. From what I have seen, you can almost always get a better deal if your are represented by a public defender. In the US, well over 90% of cases never go to trial, so the ability to get a good plea deal cannot be understated.

If I were accused, I would be very comfortable being represented by a public defender.

Re:isn't that why we have judges (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29846921)

I thought this would be one reason you are paying a defense lawyer, to check this type of stuff.

This isn't Phoenix Wright, your defense lawyer should not be required to scream OBJECTION! every three seconds just in case the prosecutor is lying, the prosecutor's witness is lying, or the D.A. is a fucktard who can't add 2+2 without a calculator. And guess what, even if he did, do you think the DA will just say "oh sorry my bad you win the game lol"? No, the DA will stonewall and refuse to admit that he made a mistake, which he'd be required to do in order to fix it.

Google Houston DNA scandal, and you'll see that all of the above is word for word true and not an exaggeration. Down to courts refusing appeals because the defense attorney failed to use his psychic mind-reading powers to know that an expert witness was lying (oh sorry, making a "mistake" that directly contradicted her lab notes) and failed to object to her testimony.

Re:isn't that why we have judges (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847131)

I wonder how many times the defense lawyer was a public defender with too many cases to even remember all of the client's names?

Re:isn't that why we have judges (1)

Fished (574624) | more than 3 years ago | (#29845983)

In fairness to the judges, they did reduce each month of recommended additional sentence to just four days. It would be interesting to see whether that was made up of a lot of judges who struck a middle ground between the recommendation and what their "judicial intuition" told them, or 1/10 judges who just didn't care and took whatever the recommendations said.

Re:isn't that why we have judges (1)

E IS mC(Square) (721736) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847015)

Error in data entry != error in algorithm.
In fact, TFS does not even mention any algorithm.

But I can understand your desire to get first post. And you can't bother to read TFS if you want to get first post, can you?

Whoops (4, Funny)

Useful Wheat (1488675) | more than 3 years ago | (#29845845)

I always knew using microsoft excel would damn your soul to hell, but I didn't know it could also send you to jail as well.

Re:Whoops (0, Offtopic)

davester666 (731373) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846603)

Maybe Diebold could create a console system for filling in these forms? They've done such a great job with voting forms...

PEBKAC (3, Informative)

soundhack (179543) | more than 3 years ago | (#29845907)

Wow, I have to turn in my geek card, I didn't know what this meant until I googled it.

Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair

Re:PEBKAC (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29846169)

I didn't know what it meant to turn in one's geek card, but I googled it. I also didn't know which bathroom to use at Outback Steakhouse. I also didn't know to spit out my gum before falling asleep. I didn't know the twist from The Crying Game. At one point I didn't even know my own name. At no point did I announce these personal revelations to the world - we didn't have twitter yet.

It's called "learning". Welcome to the club.

Re:PEBKAC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29846251)

I agree. When someone uses an acronym that actually impedes communication, they've missed the point.

Re:PEBKAC (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29846489)

Err, the entire POINT of that specific acronym is to 'impede communication'. It was an inside joke made such that an outside user was unlikely to pick up on the fact that it was an insult.

Re:PEBKAC (3, Insightful)

wastedlife (1319259) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846357)

I vote you can keep your geek card, because you googled it. If you had just posted "PEBKAC, what the fuck does that mean?! Damn kids and their txt speak", we would kindly ask you to hand in your geek card and resume lawn-guarding duties.

Re:PEBKAC (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29847611)

PEBKAC is an acronym which stands for "Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair". The phrase is used by computer experts as a humorous way to describe user errors. In 2006, Intel began running a number of PEBKAC web-based advertisements to promote its vPro platform.

Wikipedia is your friend.

Re:PEBKAC (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29846559)

I've always seen this before referred to as a PICNIC error...

Problem in chair not in computer...

PICNIC trips of the tongue a bit more easily than PEBKAC...

Re:PEBKAC (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29847199)

PICNIC trips of the tongue a bit more easily than PEBKAC...

That's kind of the point. Since it is a complicated-sounding acronym, you can say it to the person's face: "Uh, huh. Uh, huh. Yeah, I've seen this before. Sounds like a PEBKAC error. Here's what you need to do..."
Much better than: "Uh, huh. Uh, huh. Yeah, I've seen this before. Sounds like a PICNIC error"
"Haha, that's funny, what's it stand for?"
"Uh, problem in chair, not in computer"
"Asshole"

Re:PEBKAC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29846717)

I hate when people use that acronym. Thankfully it's not used often any more. Every time I see it, it takes me several seconds to parse it and remember what it means. It would be easier to just write out the damn words.

It's a holdover acronym from back in the day when USENET was a popular discussion forum. Nobody with half a brain uses it these days.

Re:PEBKAC (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 3 years ago | (#29848937)

JFGI solves many issues related to the understanding of unknown acronyms. And has the advantage of being potentially humorous the first time one experiences it. I'm glad to hear it solved your problem.

Legal Malpractice (5, Informative)

Dr. Grabow (949057) | more than 3 years ago | (#29845929)

IAAL and it is legal malpractice to not double-check the prosecution's sentencing algorithm and recommendations to the judge ...

Re:Legal Malpractice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29846237)

Double-checking doesn't reduce the probability of error to zero. How can you prove malpractice when there's is a chance the defense made the same error when using the worksheet?

Re:Legal Malpractice (2, Insightful)

kj_kabaje (1241696) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846243)

Holy sh!t. So 1 of every 10 cases in Maryland should result in malpractice suit? That's a stunningly low quality of lawyers in this PhD's sample.

Re:Legal Malpractice (4, Interesting)

cvd6262 (180823) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846301)

IAAL and it is legal malpractice to not double-check the prosecution's sentencing algorithm and recommendations to the judge ...

That's great! So, where do I bring this up? What happens to the lawyers who make these mistakes?

I'm not being snarky; I sincerely wish to know.

When I moved to the East Coast I found it odd that I needed a lawyer to buy a house. I had bought and sold out West on a handshake and a contract. I was told that out here, where property has been bought and sold for centuries, the lawyers would check deeds, get the property surveyed, etc. OK, I got that.

But what happens if in ten years, somebody's great grandson comes by with a deed on the northern half of my land? Do I get my lawyer fees back?

Similarly, a family member of mine just settled on her divorce. When it came time to sign the papers, her ex acted shocked at the agreement. His laywer said, "You can't blame him. He just didn't understand the terms." So, then, can we blame the laywer who was supposed to explain it to him?

Coming back to the topic here: So the defense attorney screwed up. 1) What are the paths of recourse for those who suffered from the mistake? 2) What are the consequences to the lawyer who screwed up?

Because, in my dealing with lawyers, they almost never get called out on their mistakes.

Re:Legal Malpractice (4, Interesting)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846491)

You can sue a lawyer for malpractice. Of course, you need another lawyer....

You can also file a bar complaint. The state bar association will investigate. And, in spite of, or perhaps because of, all the lawyer jokes, they take it seriously.

In the case of your land, that is what title insurance is for. However, what is usually in the closing costs for title insurance is to protect the bank, should there be a title error, so they don't lose the loan money. You have to buy your own title insurance to protect your investment. You can also get an abstract of title and check it out yourself, but the abstract costs money.

My experience with lawyers is that they will be more than happy to explain anything you want in more detail, but if you just sit there and nod, they presume you understand what is going on. Health care, legal care, or custom software, if you don't stay engaged, you won't get the outcome you want.

Re:Legal Malpractice (1)

cvd6262 (180823) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846585)

In the case of your land, that is what title insurance is for.

So the company that insures my title will get the money back from the lawyer whom I paid to cleared the title?

Or does the lawyer keep the money regardless of the outcome?

Re:Legal Malpractice (4, Insightful)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847019)

My experience with lawyers is that they will be more than happy to explain anything you want in more detail

They get to charge $300+ an hour to sit there and explain things to you. Damn straight they're "more than happy" to do it!

Augmented Reality Time! (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847631)

We need realtime Speech-To-Text. When someone is blistering past you, you can click on the link to Wiki and read it.

Re:Legal Malpractice (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846595)

That's great! So, where do I bring this up? What happens to the lawyers who make these mistakes?

They get sued for malpractice. Or someone files a complaint with the State Bar. Or both.

Re:Legal Malpractice (1)

MartinSchou (1360093) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846915)

Or someone files a complaint with the State Bar.

I swear to The Flying Spaghetti Monster that I read that as

Or someone files a complaint with the Battlestar.

Re:Legal Malpractice (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 3 years ago | (#29849001)

I suspect if that was what really happened, the error rate would quickly become significantly less than 1:10

Re:Legal Malpractice (4, Informative)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846669)

But what happens if in ten years, somebody's great grandson comes by with a deed on the northern half of my land? Do I get my lawyer fees back?

Basically, strange things happen. I work in a county government where we handle property tax billing, and essentially the situation you describe results in a disputed property record being created.

Generally we have parcel ID numbers to distinguish unique tracks of land. These are 10 digit numbers. When a piece of land becomes disputed though a letter will be added behind - so 1001003832A and 1001003832B for example. These are physically the same pieces of land that will be listed under the original ownership and the disputed ownership. Legally, until something changes, BOTH parties own the land. Both are charged property taxes, and if either fails to pay then they forfeit their stake in the land to the county (which interestingly enough, can then be auctioned at the tax sale as a stake in the land even though there is already another owner).

What USUALLY happens is that one or the other owner will either cave and sell their share to the other owner, resulting in a single ownership again, or one of them will just eventually stop paying the taxes and the current owner will purchase back that stake in the land at auction (since the fact that the propery is disputed will hamper the auction value a lot anyways).

Re:Legal Malpractice (1)

MartinSchou (1360093) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846997)

Both are charged property taxes

Isn't that double dipping? How is that even legal?

I can understand it, IF the parties are charged an amount equal to half (a third or however many parties there are) of the original property tax, but otherwise there will be absolutely no interest in settling this from the perspective of the government.

While I'm sure what you're saying is only giving a brief outline of what happens, it sounds as if you could use this method to ruin people you don't like.

Just cook up four or five fake deeds to their land, give it to shady people and have them press forward with lawsuits etc., and the county is getting plenty of money from the new "owners" and as such they have no interest in speeding up procedures.

And when someone finally folds, they'll get even MORE money in the land auctions. And as you said, now the actual owner have to spend even more money on buying his land, and the original perpetrator can now swoop in and buy the land and have it white washed through the county itself. Brilliant.

Re:Legal Malpractice (2, Informative)

jhfry (829244) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847153)

It is indeed double dipping... and it's brilliant.

It's like when you and a sibling or friend fought over a toy and your parents ripped it in half and gave you each a piece. No one wins unless one side relents. That's justice!

Re:Legal Malpractice (1)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 3 years ago | (#29848115)

Isn't that double dipping? How is that even legal?

It's how the law is written, hence it's legal (and remember that county governments have a legal system and pass laws themselves to - just like the Federal to State relationship, anything that the State doesn't forbid, county council can make laws on themselves). Honestly, I can say that given the tiny amount of extra revenue we get from disputed properties (out of 90,000+ properties in our system was have about 15 that are disputed) it causes far more headaches to deal with that the little bit of extra revenue is worth, particularly when it's often just large tracts of vacant land - some with an agricultural exemption (essentially they pay only a tiny fraction of what the actual tax cost would be if they're using it for agricultural purposes, of which just growing trees for timber can qualify). We just deal with it how the law prescribes because, well, we have to.

Re:Legal Malpractice (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#29848731)

I work in a county government where we handle property tax billing... Generally we have parcel ID numbers to distinguish unique tracks of land

You mean the railroad is disputing ownership of a particulat tract of land? Sorry, but your misspelling of that single word makes one think that maybe you don't handle anything remotely related to property. They're tracts of land, not tracks of land.

Re:Legal Malpractice (1)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 3 years ago | (#29848943)

I'm well aware of the distinction in terms (though it's more common to refer to them as parcels here than tracts). I'm sure there are other misspellings in my post too.

Much like you're little slip with:

You mean the railroad is disputing ownership of a particulat tract of land?

If you presume every time someone misspells a word that they're lying then you're in for one heck of a doubting spell.

Re:Legal Malpractice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29849157)

His was a misspelling, yours was the use of an incorrect word.

Man up, and admit to your mistake...

Re:Legal Malpractice (1)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 3 years ago | (#29849295)

I already admitted my mistake. If you're prefer me to say that I used an incorrect word than I'll say that. That doesn't change my original post however, and it certainly doesn't change my qualifications (namely that I work as the system admin for the appraisal software used to track and value the real property within the county, as well as being the maintainer of the synchronization scripts that move that data to the taxing system).

Re:Legal Malpractice (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#29849565)

If you presume every time someone misspells a word that they're lying then you're in for one heck of a doubting spell.

If I see someone spell "loose" when they mean "lose" I generally think they're just making a typo. Or with "noone" (easy enough to miss the space bar). But when you use the wrong word entirely it makes me think you really don't know what you're talking about. How, exactly, did you confuse "tracts" with "Tracks"? I would think someone working in a tax office would see the word "tracts" written far more often than they would hear it spoken. I would assume if you made a slip like that instead of talking about "tracks of land" you would say something about crossing railroad tracts.

Re:Legal Malpractice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29848075)

I know that on my house the attorney specifically said he was required by law to carry malpractice insurance of at least half a million dollars an incident. Additionally, we were required to sign a piece of paper indicating if we wished to purchase insurance such that if something was done improperly this insurance would pay the attorney fees up front as an effort to ensure we could sue if appropriate. As a buyer the insurance was only $30. The problem: to buy the insurance you had to sign the piece of paper and give the check to the attorney. He found that a real problem since either we believed he was obeying the law and carrying the malpractice insurance which would cover it, or he was a liar and why would we trust him with our money and form.

Re:Legal Malpractice (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#29848901)

Because, in my dealing with lawyers, they almost never get called out on their mistakes.

There are articles in the newspaper every month about lawyers being sanctioned, which actually illustrates your point. If it were common, it woudn't be news.

Re:Legal Malpractice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29846331)

This was in 2005. It's now late 2009. I have to wonder how long this has really been going on, and seriously doubt that this sort of thing is restricted to Maryland.

I'm not sure disbarment, or even jail time would do justice for the lawyers, D.A's. judges, and clerical staff that allowed this negligence to flow through.

Violation of Due Process anyone?

What (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29845935)

What talking about you are?

PEBKAC (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 3 years ago | (#29845943)

The problem with a PEBKAC diagnosis is that even when you replace the offending filter, you're still taking input from a chair...

Re:PEBKAC (1)

Captain Spam (66120) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846295)

The problem with a PEBKAC diagnosis is that even when you replace the offending filter, you're still taking input from a chair...

Ah, but the chair is less likely to give you faulty data, isn't it?

Justice is only available to the rich (4, Insightful)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | more than 3 years ago | (#29845965)

This is another example of why impartial and fair justice is really only available to the rich. A rich defendant could afford to pay his high powered defense attorney team to scrutinize this level of detail. This is not happening for poor defendants who are forced to settle for noble, but overworked, public defenders.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (5, Insightful)

Itninja (937614) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846171)

Does that also mean that, when a rich person does get convicted and go to jail, they must have really done it? Whereas a poor person who goes to jail is likely just a victim of the system?

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (0, Offtopic)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846231)

Does that also mean that, when a rich person does get convicted and go to jail, they must have really done it? Whereas a poor person who goes to jail is likely just a victim of the system?

Probably. But having really "done it" according to the law doesn't mean the law itself is good law.
Don't confuse being technically correct with being fair or right.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (1)

conureman (748753) | more than 3 years ago | (#29848439)

Don't go confusing findings with facts, I've personally gone to jail for "crimes" that, had they factually occurred, I would not have been guilty of, anyway. Not a damn thing to be done either.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29846255)

Yes.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (2, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846445)

Do you have any counter examples of rich and powerful people wrongly convicted?

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847779)

Of course not. I mean, their social standing makes their wrongful conviction a fundamental impossibility. It just makes sense.
Kidding aside, the wrongful conviction of the rich and powerful usually come in the form of purges or revolutions. As opposed to us plebes that get stuck with the pedestrian court system, the powerful get lined up and shot, or beheaded, or just 'disappeared'.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (3, Insightful)

FlightTest (90079) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846995)

No, it means a rich person is much more likely to get the correct sentence, for better or for worse. I read most of TFA so I may have missed it, but it didn't seem to say whether longer or shorter sentences were more likely. It did say that race wasn't a factor in the error, and implied that the errors were non-intentional.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847749)

It does suggest that a convicted rich person is much more likely to have actually done it than a poor person convicted on the same strength of evidence. It does not rise to the level of 100% certainty.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 3 years ago | (#29848771)

Does that also mean that, when a rich person does get convicted and go to jail, they must have really done it?

No, it just means that they've managed to piss of someone even more powerfull.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (1)

LanMan04 (790429) | more than 3 years ago | (#29849163)

Does that also mean that, when a rich person does get convicted and go to jail, they must have really done it? Whereas a poor person who goes to jail is likely just a victim of the system?

Yes.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (2, Insightful)

benwiggy (1262536) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846297)

Are you suggesting that reading the correct cell from a spreadsheet table is a level "detailed scrutiny", which public defenders are incapable of?

As a lawyer has posted above, it is malpractice not to check this.

Whilst I agree that justice is what you pay for it, this isn't a great example.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847793)

Given a sufficiently large caseload, even the best and brightest will perform poorly. This applies to many professions including law.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 3 years ago | (#29849207)

Let's assume that the error rate for any given lawyer is 1:100. Now let's assume that a big-league legal firm working on a high-profile case for a rich/powerful/famous/etc. person dedicates a staff of 10 lawyers to the case. If any given lawyer will make an error for every 100 details, then the odds of all ten lawyers making the same mistake are pretty slim. Therefore, the odds of having an error in the sentencing for such a defendant are also pretty slim, right?

Now, look at the opposite case. Rather than having ten lawyers scrutinizing every detail for the rich, powerful, blah-blah-blah defendant, you have one public defender scrutinizing details for ten impoverished clients. The public defender's workload is one hundred times greater (ten defendants vs. one defendant X one lawyer looking over all the details vs. ten lawyers). Consequently, the odds of him (or her) making an error that doesn't get caught is significantly greater.

It's not that a public defender is incapable of detecting the errors; it's that in a high-workload environment, people tend not to notice discrepancies as easily. Of course, IANAL nor have I ever worked in a legal office, so the above hypothetical situation may be complete bunk...but I doubt it.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (1)

cvd6262 (180823) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846325)

This is another example of why impartial and fair justice is really only available to the rich.

You need to add the stipulation "... in our FUBAR system."

There are ways to reform it, but short of a revolution, they're not happening.

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846601)

With [nwsource.com] noble [allbusiness.com] souls [northcountrygazette.org] like [apublicdefender.com] these [nwsource.com], who needs corruption?

Re:Justice is only available to the rich (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847897)

I'm guessing the many people incompetently defended (particularly in the first link) were NOT granted a new trial even though they were set up to lose before they even got to court.

Oh the irony we'll have (1)

musselm (209468) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846201)

FTA: "The problem? And all too-common problem with anything to do with information and analysis: human error."

Rough math (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29846247)

2 + 2 = life sentence

(for very large values of 2)

Re:Rough math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29847211)

Judge: "Right, you are found guilty and the sentence is", *typing noises*, "NaN months!".

legal analysts too stupid for number crunching? (1)

kj_kabaje (1241696) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846263)

This isn't hard core number crunching or anything, but why does it take an econ PhD to figure out something's wrong with the criminal justice system?

Ooops... must be an "entry error"... (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 3 years ago | (#29846549)

Yeah right...!

More like "getting paid for nudging sentences in the 'right direction'" 'errors'.

"morals of the story" (1)

Permutation Citizen (1306083) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847023)

Is it me ? I expected that the moral of the story is that you can't rely on an algorithm to choose a sentence in a criminal case.

Problem is not data wrongly entered or math errors. Problem is willing to apply those kind of formula. This is just absurd.

I have to admit (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847155)

When I read the headline "Data Entry Errors Resulted In Improper Sentences" the first thing that sprang to mind was to append "and sometimes piss poor paragraphs as well."

What I find interesting about TFA is the section on parole boards correcting the mistakes if the error shortened a sentence "So parole boards proved very effective in reversing errors that would have led to shortened prison time; much less so for undeserved extra time." So, if your sentence was too long they really did nothing above and beyond what they did for most all sentences, but if it was too short they caught it and corrected it to some degree.

Now I have to wonder if there are a bunch of lawyers getting revved up to sue on behalf of the people that had to stay in jail longer than the recommended amount of time. I'm pretty sure you can't sue a judge, but the fact that the parole board had corrective power and did not use it properly would seem to be something that would draw the sharks...

Re:I have to admit (1)

Reziac (43301) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847503)

"So, if your sentence was too long they really did nothing above and beyond what they did for most all sentences, but if it was too short they caught it and corrected it to some degree."

Wouldn't that be a run-on sentence??

And it explains hanging offenses, too -- the penalty is due to dangling participles.

Wrong title article for this (1)

ZipK (1051658) | more than 3 years ago | (#29847569)

Shouldn't this article have been titled "Data Errors Entry Resulted In Sentences Improper"?

locked spreadsheet? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#29848269)

I'm not a programer, nor have I ever built a databse, but even I've heard of locking a spreadsheet to make sure the right cells are filled in.

Re:locked spreadsheet? (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 3 years ago | (#29849541)

I'm not a programer, nor have I ever built a databse, but even I've heard of locking a spreadsheet to make sure the right cells are filled in.

That technique will not prevent this kind of error for any spreadsheet that requires more than one cell be filled in.

On top of... (1)

Akoman (559057) | more than 3 years ago | (#29848847)

This is an interesting stat when combined with a piece in the Journal of Forensic Identification which stated that 1/5 people were sentenced based on inadequate or manufactured evidence. At the time I read that there were 2 million people in the US prison system. Therefore are 400,000 people in prison who shouldn't be, according to this article, another 160,000 who are in prison for longer than they should be (some intersection with the previous group) and thats from a system that is trying to be more 'objective' and not mete out race or class justice. In places without 'objective' scoring I wonder how many over-long sentences there really are.
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