I had to share this. I think it came out looking like a Dutch Renaissance painting.
I call it “Miniature Clydesdale With Human Skull” or “Hey, Ridiculous Dog, Where Are You Going With My Still Life?”
I had to share this. I think it came out looking like a Dutch Renaissance painting.
I call it “Miniature Clydesdale With Human Skull” or “Hey, Ridiculous Dog, Where Are You Going With My Still Life?”
Yesterday we had Trial by Myspace. Today Scott has Assault by Twitter in the First Degree, riffing off an article by a lawprof whose theory is that by sending a link to an epileptogenic video to a journalist, the sender committed an assault: “intentional creation of a reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm.” An assault by threat, as we’d say in Texas — a class C misdemeanor, fine-only stuff.
There is nothing new or particularly interesting about online assaults by threat — any online threat could be an assault, provided that there is some imminence. It happens every day.
But this assault on the journalist is interesting for another reason. It’s not only a threat to commit imminent harm — indeed, it’s arguably not even a threat to commit harm — but an attempt to cause bodily injury. That’d be a class B misdemeanor in Texas, with a maximum 180-day jail sentence and $2,000 fine. It’d be a third-degree felony — up to 10 years in prison — if the assailant intended to cause serious bodily injury.
Weaponized tweets, resulting in physical harm, are cyberpunk stuff: long-distance brain hacking. The brain has a tremendous deal of influence over how we feel, and people can manipulate our brains with electronic messages. (For a really-bad-case scenario, see the chapter on electronic slot machines in Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head).
I can’t think of a good reason an electronic message sent with the intent to cause an epileptic seizure should not be treated like any other attempt to cause bodily injury.
Granted, assuming the twit sent to Eichenwald satisfied all the elements of an offense, it’s still a highly limited situation. It would only apply to someone who suffers from epilepsy, and even then, there is no certainty that a video will, in fact, do harm.
I’m not convinced this is correct. For our attempted-bodily-injury analysis, it doesn’t matter whether the hack is certain to succeed. And any rule that applies to epilepsy might just as well apply to some other brain-body disorder.
Suppose that the intended injury is not a seizure but a panic attack. It’s no less real to the person experiencing it than a seizure. Why would we not treat an electronic message sent with the intent to cause a panic attack like any other attempt to cause bodily injury?
How about a suicide attempt? Shall we treat an electronic message sent with the intent to cause someone to commit suicide like an attempted murder?
Speaking of attempted murder, check this out when you have an hour to spare:
How about a message sent with the intent to trigger someone’s PTSD? Why punish an attack on an epileptic but not on the PTSD sufferer?
Okay, what about “friggering” speech? Is speech that is intended to cause someone physical distress an attempted assault? (Does it matter whether you believe that the harm is frivolous?)
Does it matter whether the communication could not cause the harm? Nope: What is required is the intent to cause bodily injury. If that’s what the sender of the message intended, he has committed the crime:
A person commits an offense if, with specific intent to commit an offense, he does an act amounting to more than mere preparation that tends but fails to effect the commission of the offense intended.
All of this is distinguishable from an assault by threat. To commit the attempted assault, the assailant doesn’t threaten harm, but invites it. The epileptogenic video is an interesting special case, but any attempted assault on Twitter is attempted assault.
When I read this description of how all sorts of tech toys could be used to prevent human interaction in the courtroom of the future, I first thought, “surely Mitch Jackson doesn’t try cases.” But apparently he does.
The tech and legal issues are unbelievably complicated. The parties to this case are concerned that the average Orange County juror just isn’t going to be able to get a good grasp on the issues and damages.
That’s his excuse for using a jury pool that “consists of programmers and tech experts from the Silicon Valley, The East London Tech Center in the UK and from Bangalore in India.”
[T]he jurors that are selected for the VARS trial program are experts and specialists from around the world who understand the issues, evidence, and arguments of the parties. The entire trial process is more efficient, and the chance for misunderstandings leading to an incorrect verdict is almost completely avoided.
That’s not a jury trial. That’s an arbitration.
For me, I’ll be starting my jury selection using my HTC Vive 1000 (fits on my sunglasses, covers my eyes, and offers a true enclosed 360 degree virtual view of the courtroom) while walking the beach at Strands in South Orange County, California. That’s where I do my best thinking and that’s where I’m going to start virtually connecting with my jury.
Fantastic. He’ll be “virtually connecting” with his jury while his attention is divided between the beach and them. So let’s play that out a little farther. He’s wearing sunglasses and his HTC Vive 1000, and he’s talking to a jury. Either they see a lawyer walking in place wearing sunglasses and an HTC Vive 1000 (external camera?), or they see a computer-generated version of him. Either he’s walking down the beach in a suit, they see him wearing beach clothes, or — again — they see only a computer-generated version of him.
for all purposes, jury selection takes place just like it would in a traditional non-digital courtroom.
Just like it would in a courtroom, except that the panel doesn’t represent the community, and instead of having people talking and listening to each other, you have people who are distracted by other realities looking at each other through technological intermediators. There is lag — sometimes perceptible — in every conversation. If the images are not computer generated, everyone will see everyone else with their eyes hidden by goggles, through a camera, ten thousand miles of cable, and a display.
Not to worry, though,
each juror will be given and wear the VARS sensory device which will allow counsel and the judge to “sense” what the jurors are feeling and thinking.
. . . . .
The result is that the perception what the jurors think and feel is substantially higher and much more accurate.
I highly recommend reading the whole post if you have a quota of stupid stuff to read today. (In which case what are you still doing here?!?)
The jury trial — “the only anchor ever yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution” — was not invented in Silicon Valley. It evolved over thousands of year. The process is not perfect, but tinkering with it risks unforeseen consequences. The parties get some say in how it goes, and it is certainly conceivable that some plaintiff-defendant pair would at some point agree to trying a case on Facebook. But at least one of them would certainly be in error: Any deviation from the process benefits one side more than the other. If I consented to a trial by social media I wouldn’t expect the State to.
Usually in jury trials we try to humanize our clients. In Jackson’s hypothetical trial he would find a corporate representative of his client whom the jury would feel for. The technologies required to create an approximation of human contact over the Internet would have the opposite effect: dehumanization.
But what about Facebook? What about Twitter? All of these toys we use to connect with each other?
Have you seen how people treat each other on social media? They are all dehumanizing us by getting people used to not having human contact with each other. There is a reason the Confrontation Clause requires confrontation.
The courtroom is one of the few places that modern life still tries to force us occasionally to have live contact with other human beings. A person could live alone, check out at the automatic checkout at the supermarket, microwave dinner, surf the web, go to bed, wake up, and telecommute to work. That jury summons may be the only thing requiring him to see anyone else face to face.
Jackson’s essay would be technodystopian science fiction, except that Jackson seems to be earnestly enthusiastic about it:
As you can probably tell, I’m passionate about disrupting industries and creating positive change….
Whatever happened to Second Life?
I’ll bet Jackson is big into Second Life.
Regular readers know that for nearly three years, since right after killing the dirty-talk portion of Texas’s Online Solicitation of a Minor statute, I’ve been going after the balance of that statute, which appears at first to forbid only actual solicitation (which is unprotected speech), but on further reading explicitly criminalizes protected fantasy by eliminating lack-of-defense and fantasy defenses. The argument is that the statute is constitutionally overbroad.
Texas lawyers know that I’ve racked up an impressive record of failure in the intermediate courts of appeals, which have uniformly held that the statute forbids “conduct” rather than speech.
Friends know that I’m not going to let that bunch of Mensa-aspiring civil lawyers running for reelection tell me what the U.S. Constitution protects. After all, until the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 9–0 in Lo every court had upheld section 33.021(b) of the Texas Penal Code as well.
So I filed petitions for discretionary review in the cases in which the courts of appeals upheld the statute: Wheeler, Fisher, Alvarez, Chapman, Radford, Mahmoud, Leax, Parker, each petition different than the one before. The Court of Criminal Appeals refused the first couple (no telling why). Five of them are still pending. Last month the Court of Criminal Appeals granted discretionary review (with oral argument) in Leax.
In Leax I have presented a single issue: The Ninth Court of Appeals erred when it held that Section 33.021 is not a content-based restriction. Whether the statute is a content-based restriction (on communication) is the key to an as-written overbreadth challenge such as this one because a content-based restriction is presumed to be unconstitutional, and the State has the burden of showing that it meets strict scrutiny (by demonstrating that it is the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest).
Last year the Texas Legislature amended section 33.021 to permit fantasy and lack-of-intent defenses. So conduct post September 1, 2015 is covered by a statute that probably passes constitutional muster as written. This is a good thing for three reasons. First, because it allows the State to prosecute people who intend to commit sex crimes against children. Second, because it doesn’t allow the State to prosecute people who are engaged in age play. And third, because it is proof that the pre-9/1/15 statute is not the least restrictive means of achieving the compelling government interest.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has already held that if it is necessary to look at the content of the communication to decide if the speaker violated a statute — true of 33.021 — the statute is content based.
Because the Texas Legislature has already passed a less restrictive statute that achieves the same compelling government interest, section 33.021 is not likely to survive a finding that it is content based.
The New Jersey Courts’ index of attorneys shows no “Tyler Schultz.”
The New York Courts’ attorney search shows no Erin Brooks.
California shows several John Russells, one of whom might be in the same age range as the guy in the picture. I’ve reached out to him to inquire.
But I’m betting that “John Russell, CA” is made up like Tyler Schultz and Erin Brooks, because:
Yes, you are correct: Crooked [pretend-]lawyer John Casement, on his website hawking “content written by attorneys” has invented two — and probably three — lawyers from whole cloth, inventing names and choosing stock photos to represent them.
This causes bar problems for Casement. [The joke’s on me. The Missouri Directory of Lawyers shows no lawyer with the last name “Casement.” So Casement isn’t violating bar rules, which only apply to lawyers. He’s just committing fraud.]
The lesson that Casement will take from this is that when someone tells him, “If I could keep you from getting licensed, with your talk of ‘leads,’ I would,” he probably shouldn’t email him with his next scam.
The lesson that Casement should take from this is not to lie, because he’s probably going to get caught, and when he does it’s going to hurt.
The lesson that the rest of you should take from this is to do your due diligence before sending any money to a marketer, even if he is [or claims to be] a lawyer. If he is so shoddy with his own ethics and reputation, you don’t want to trust him with yours.
When I talk about online marketing and social media to lawyers, I remind them that outsourcing their marketing is outsourcing their reputation. I point out that many people selling online marketing will lie to get their attention — to get you to read their emails or return their calls. And I ask them:
If they would lie to get your attention, why would you trust them with your reputation?
I got a call today from a “Denise McDermott” at 312-252-0605. The message was, “she is doing some work for the Inglis Law Firm that she wants to discuss.” It’s probably not a lie, but rather an omission: McDermott knows that if she leaves a message saying that she’s selling whatever online marketing crap she’s selling, I won’t be returning her call. Fortunately for her, I won’t be returning her call because I recognize her vague message as an attempt to get me to call her back without quite lying to me. Fortunate because my language when I’m tricked into calling someone tends toward the hurtful.
Last year I got this email from “John Casement” of Missouri, subject “Hey Mark, Quick Question.” There was in fact no question in the email:
My name is John Casement, I am a recent JD/MBA graduate with an emphasis in marketing analytics. I actually just took the Missouri bar a couple of days ago; now I am competing to win a $50,000 grant from LaunchKC and could really use your help to get more traction. My company is called Legally Marketing.
Basically, we would like to redesign your website so that it generates more leads and clients for your firm. We have created a proprietary, scientific process to analyze your visitors’ behavior and turn them into clients using machine-learning.
We are charging each ‘case study’ client $999 for our complete website redesign service, with the guarantee that our services will drastically improve your professional image and profits. The price is so low because we are building references. Your redesign will be completed by August 31st, we will then test and improve it for two months. Our goal is to sign up all six ‘case study’ clients by August 6th; we have four on board right now.
I would love to schedule a call to discuss this more – please let me know when you are available. Thank you for your time.
John Casement | jd, mba
My response was pointed:
Not only will I not pay you any money, but you won’t get any positive attention from me at all. If I could keep you from getting licensed, with your talk of “leads,” I would.
They’re clients, not leads.
Casement’s reply was adequate:
Thank you for your time and response. I apologize for offending you and really appreciate your feedback. You are right, calling clients ‘leads’ is impersonal and affronting. I will make sure to avoid doing so in the future – thanks again for the advice. Hope you have a great week.
I thought I was done with him.
Yesterday another email from Casement showed up in my box: “Quick Question.” I get quick questions from potential clients and fellow lawyers all the time, and I didn’t remember the earlier email from Casement, so I didn’t immediately send it to spam.
Again, there was no quick question. Now Casement is selling ghostwritten web content to lawyers:
First, thank you for your time. Because of my legal and marketing background, I have been consulting with law firms and helping them attract more clients. During this consulting, firms have repeatedly asked for professionally written blog posts and website content.
Because I heard this so often, I recruited a staff of attorneys and professional writers to create exceptional content for firms like yours.
Writing is thinking. Good clients choose lawyers based on how the lawyers think. They can tell how the lawyers think by reading what the lawyers write. Mark me down as violently opposed to “professionally written blog posts and website content,” because lawyers with ghostwritten content are tricking these good clients. John Casement is in the business of tricking people. Lawyers should not be in the business of tricking people. It’s a crooked business, for crooked people.
Twice John Casement tricked me into opening his emails. I might admire the gumption if he didn’t claim to be a lawyer. I still wouldn’t do business with him, because my reputation is too valuable to be put in the hands of a crook.
At the end of his email Casement wrote, “I would really appreciate any feedback you can provide. Thank you again for your time.”
Here you go. Happy to help.
Remember, it is not what you think about the Super Lawyers program, it is about what the potential client thinks!
Thus spake Bart Taylor, trying to sell advertising in the Super Lawyers online directory in an email purporting to come from Houston PI lawyer Randy Sorrels:
Lots of lawyers seem to agree with Bart. As exhibit “A,” I would offer the trumpeting of bullshit “Top 100 Lawyers” “honors”:
Joe:I have nothing against Jim, Grant, Phil, or Joe. I like them all, and have found them to be smart, generally ethical lawyers,1 but they are playing with fire here. Because lying in advertising is pretty much frowned upon, not only by me, but also by the State Bar. I hope this post will prompt them all to return to the ethical fold.
The “Top 100” are not “the top 100 trial lawyers” (as Jim and Grant claim) “the top 100 trial lawyers in Texas” (as Phil claims) “the top 100 trial lawyers in criminal law” (as Joe claims) or even the top 100 trial lawyers in criminal law in Texas.
The “Top 100” are the top 100 lawyers willing to pay $350 to the “National Trial Lawyers” for the privilege of lying to potential clients about the ranking in a geographical area specifically gerrymandered to contain 100 or fewer such lawyers.
A lawyer would have to be stupid not to know this, and none of these guys are stupid. All of them know that they haven’t been named “one of the top 100.” Yet they advertise that false claim, perhaps because they, like Bart, think it is not what you think about the honor, it is about what the potential client thinks.
But that’s crap, of course. Because unlike marketers, lawyers have ethical rules we have to follow. And if we know that an honor is bought-and-paid-for bullshit,2 we have a duty not to mislead the public.
I’ll go farther: We have a duty to not be ignorant about the claims that we make about ourselves.
And of course we are responsible for things done on our behalf as though we had done them ourselves.
So the marketers say “all that matters is what the potential client thinks.” This is a siren song — who doesn’t want clients thinking of him as one of the top 100 lawyers? — that we must resist. For if the potential client thinks our marketing means something that we know it not to mean, we are deceiving him.
In Trial Theory I I concluded:
Most jurors form a belief about the right result in the case by the end of opening statement; this belief will not be changed absent blockbuster evidence that they have not been primed to expect.1
Blockbuster evidence in this context has a technical meaning: it is evidence that is:
If the you or the State has primed the jury to expect the evidence, it is not unforeseen. If other evidence contradicts the evidence it is not incontrovertible. And if the story of the party who the evidence seems to disfavor still makes sense when the evidence is considered it is not dispositive.
Let’s work our way back through the trial to see how the theory works.
In jury deliberation, the jurors tend to go back and take a first vote. Then they work their way to a verdict. The way the initial split goes (toward guilty or not guilty) is almost always the way the final verdict goes. If you have seven jurors when the jury goes out, your client is probably going to be acquitted, or the jury hung. If the state has seven jurors at the first vote, your client is probably going to be convicted (or the jury hung). What changes minority jurors’ beliefs is not the weight of the evidence, but the weight of the personalities against them.
The evidence and the law are important not because they are going to change jurors’ minds but because they are going to give jurors face-saving reasons to change their minds.
In closing argument, then, we remind our jurors of the evidence and the law to which they can cling to preserve their own beliefs (preserving a hung jury if our jurors are in the minority) and to which they can point to give the other side’s jurors an excuse to change their beliefs (getting to an acquittal if our jurors are in the majority).
The purpose of the jury charge is to set before our jurors the law to rationalize their beliefs and to give their jurors a face-saving reason to change their beliefs.
The presentation of evidence serves two purposes. First, it gives our jurors—those who believe our story—ammunition to use in the jury room to resist the weight of personality arrayed against them, or to give the government’s jurors a face-saving reason to vote for acquittal.
Second, the presentation of evidence makes it possible for us to give the government’s jurors blockbuster evidence that they have not been primed to expect, which might change their minds. At the same time, defensively, we want to keep the government from introducing blockbuster evidence that might actually change our jurors’ beliefs.
The presentation of evidence, the wrangling over admissibility, and the closing arguments under this model look just like the same procedures under a more traditional model (in which we pretend that jurors don’t actually make up their minds until deliberations).
What about opening statement? In opening statement, we tell the jury what they should believe. Nobody is going to believe something just because a defense lawyer tells him to. So the jurors’ beliefs, in this model, are formed in jury selection and affirmed in opening statement.
In this model, jury selection is everything. In jury selection, the jury, given the parameters of the accusation (the elements and, at least in hypothetical terms, any major issues), comes up with the defense (perhaps among other possible defenses), and in opening statement you confirm that that is your defense. Roughly, in voir dire this would happen:
You: How could someone charged with this crime in hypothetical circumstances like this not be guilty?
Jurors: Maybe because X, or Y, or Z.
And in opening statement this would happen:
You: You’re right, jury. Y. And here are the facts that back that up.
If the jury didn’t come up with your defense in jury selection, it was a lousy defense.
Treating jury selection like it’s all that matters doesn’t preclude treating opening statement like it’s all that matters, treating your objections to the government’s evidence like they are all that matter, treating your cross-examination of the government’s witnesses as all that matters, treating your presentation of evidence as all that matters, and treating closing argument as all that matters.
But if you don’t win your case in jury selection, at best you have an uphill battle to win the case in the end.
(That’s why you should come to TCDLA’s voir dire seminar in Dallas next Thursday and Friday.)
This is not entirely correct. There is something else that will change jurors’ formed beliefs. I’ll talk about it in another part of this discussion. ↩
…That night, someone sent an e-mail to Vietnamese groups alleging appellant was going to Vietnam to “bow down” to Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communists.
. . . . .
In 2014, appellant [Al Hoang] won the Republican primary for State Representative District 149. Nguyen continued to label appellant a Vietnamese Communist. In October of that year, Nguyen reported that appellant’s father committed suicide in 2007 because appellant was a Communist. Nguyen also stated that appellant made the bomb with which he was threatened in 2012 to gain attention.
From 2010 to the time suit was filed in October 2014, articles published in Thoi Bao called appellant “a Vietnamese Communist, an agent of Vietnamese Communist, or a spy of the Vietnamese Communist [sic].” These articles were also disseminated to Vietnamese groups and over the internet.
Appellees win: Appellant had failed to provide “clear and specific evidence that the
statements of which he complains were published with actual malice….”
While Hoang v. Nguyen was pending the same panel of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals — Justices Martha Hill Jamison, John Donovan, and Marc Brown — in State v. Stubbs upheld Section 33.07 of the Texas Penal Code in the face of an overbreadth challenge.
Section 33.07 forbids using someone’s name online without his consent with intent to harm him.
The appellees’ speech in Hoang v. Nguyen — articles about Mr. Hoang disseminated over the internet — used his name online without his consent with the intent to harm him.
So while Thoi Bao and Mr. Nguyen are protected by the Texas Citizens Participation Act from frivolous lawsuits such as the one by Mr. Hoang (who will be paying my fees), they risk felony prosecution under Section 33.07 whenever they write something unfavorable about Mr. Hoang (or anybody else). And under Section 33.07 neither the truth, lack of actual malice, nor opinion is a defense.
Even if they write what they know to be the truth, they may face felony prosecution. They will have to go to trial to make an as-applied challenge to the statute (it is unconstitutional as applied to them) and nobody but them is going to pay my fees when we win.
(Part of the court’s reasoning in Stubbs was that prosecutors haven’t used 33.07 to prosecute newsmen for criticizing public officials, but prosecutors’ noblesse oblige is not part of the overbreadth analysis. That the Harris County DA did not come to the aid of her Republican brother does not mean that future DAs will abstain as well.)
To know what to do at any point in a jury trial, we must have some theory of how the parts of the trial fit together.
In a felony jury trial with twelve jurors (and the requirement of a unanimous verdict) there are 4,095 permutations of verdicts that do not involve our client going to prison.1 There is only one permutation that convicts our client. If each juror’s verdict were independent of the others and there were a 50% chance that each juror would convict, there would be a 1 in 4,096 chance of a conviction.
But jurors’ verdicts are not independent—one juror’s verdict will affect another’s—and the chance that any given juror will acquit is not necessarily 50%.
Our goal as criminal-defense lawyers is to keep the government as far as possible from that one permutation that convicts our client. To do this we need to recognize how jurors’ verdicts are dependent on each other, and how each juror reaches a verdict.
Many trial lawyers believe that every trial is won or lost in jury selection. Modern research into human cognition suggests that once a person forms a belief, it is very difficult to change that belief. Mere evidence will not suffice to change a normal person’s belief; she will disregard evidence that contradicts her beliefs and will magnify the evidence that supports her beliefs. This is called confirmation bias. Other biases act toward the same goal: to lock a person into her initial belief.
While we make jurors promise to consider all of the evidence before reaching a decision, there is very little evidence that they actually do this.
Research with mock juries suggests that how the jury is split when it goes out predicts the verdict. A jury that is 7–5 for conviction on the first ballot will most likely convict or hang; a jury that is 11–1 for conviction on the first ballot will almost certainly hang. A jury that is 6–6 or better for the defense on the first ballot will likely not convict. It appears that it is force of personality, rather than quality of evidence, that determines whether jurors will change their minds.
So we want to have as many jurors as possible on our side when they go out (we don’t want our defense to depend on beliefs formed in the jury room), which means that we want to have as many jurors as possible on our side as early as possible.
How early is “as early as possible”? Most jurors form a belief about the right result in the case by the end of opening statement; this belief will not be changed absent blockbuster evidence that they have not been primed to expect.
Each juror’s individual verdict can be either “guilty” or “not guilty.” The combined verdict of the entire jury can be expressed as a 12-digit binary number, with each bit representing one juror’s vote, 0 for guilty and 1 for not guilty. There are 212 = 4,096 12-digit binary numbers. Only one of them, 00000000000, or 0, is a unanimous guilty verdict. ↩