: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Cell Phone Forensics – Evidence gleaned from Cell Phone used in High-Profile Cases

We had a fact pattern in mock trial last year that used cell phone evidence to place the defendant in a murder case. On one hand it was hard to know what to do with it or how to present it to a jury. On the other, its appeal to cold, hard facts gave it an air of being incontrovertible.

A recent article in Wired Magazine, Courts Cast Wary Eye on Evidence Gleaned From Cell Phones highlights some problems on a trend that’s on the rise.

The afternoon of Sept. 18, 1993, someone set fire to a notorious Los Angeles drug house near the University of Southern California, killing an addict. Four years later, R&B singer Waymond Anderson was convicted of the murder, based on the shaky testimony of two eyewitnesses, and on a third, silent witness whose implacable digital testimony the defense didn’t dare challenge: Anderson’s cell phone.

A police forensics expert told the jury that call logs proved Anderson was in the neighborhood at the time of the murder, and that he even made a phone call through a cell tower located just a quarter-mile from the blaze. Anderson’s lawyer didn’t attempt to question what was then bleeding-edge scientific evidence. “Nobody challenged the officer in the investigation,” says David Bernstein, Anderson’s new attorney. “Probably because cell phones were such a new technology.”

Now down 13 years on a life sentence, Anderson has his first shot at freedom. The two eyewitnesses have recanted. And using information about cell-phone tower locations with some sleuthing on MapQuest, Bernstein recently showed an appeals court that Anderson’s cell phone was in a car driving away from the site of the crime at the time the arsonist was splashing gasoline around the converted garage. The closest transmitter the phone passed was a mile away from the crime, not a quarter-mile as the police claimed; and by the time the fire was hurling black smoke into the south Los Angeles sky, Anderson’s phone was linking with a different transmitter six miles away, in Chinatown.

Based on this new information, a three-judge panel of the California 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered the case reopened last month, and gave the Los Angeles court that convicted Anderson until August to hold hearings on the new evidence, or release Anderson.

Evidence from cellphones has been effective in some high profile convictions as well. If your interested in learning more, check out these Draft Specifications from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…

The first day of class is always interesting. There’s a certain ritual that takes place between professor and student… mating ritual is certainly the wrong word… but there’s something unmistakably first-date-ish in the awkwardness of the interaction.

Every prof has different preferences. Ragazzo would appear at the stroke of the hour as if in a puff of smoke and immediately launch into his first victim. Thompson baffled us by treating us as other human beings – ‘You want to know my first name? Is this a trick question?’ This is however, the first prof we’ve had with an eponymous website. I like him already.

There’s always a first assignment and while you can read it as many times as you’d like, it’s rare that you’ll correctly anticipate what the prof will be looking for. Some like policy and want to address the issues immediately. Others want to build it just like a brief – facts, history, holding, reasoning. Facts are important for some, a general description of how the issues arose will suffice. For students going through this for the first time, this variation in what’s expected can be maddening. Get used to it.

Whatever the burning sensation of insecurity, fatigue and confusion you’re experiencing now, I present a few tales of those who have suffered worse for your amusement and edification.

Law Prof Blawg Concurring Opinions Seeks Summer Intern

Feeling a little underemployed this summer? Draft a blog post on why you deserve to be the Concurring Opinions Summer Intern.

1. The Job Description

Let’s start by repeating a key aspect of this job. It is unpaid, except in “prestige points,” which you can probably can’t even monetize on Berkman Island. In return for being associated with this Blog, and getting to know its authors, we’d expect you to work at least ten hours a week over the summer. We’d also expect the position to run until school starts again in late August.

The Concurring Opinions intern will help us on projects ranging from law school rankings, to the next edition of the law professor blogger census, to upgrading the technical aspects of the site, to collecting legal stories of interest to our readers in an informative and interesting way. We imagine that if you have interest and ability, you will draft several posts over the summer, though some of your work will be behind the scenes.

I will be having way too much fun with my regular working-stiff job and of course Property & Admin. Oh joy.

Car Crash Lawyers – Mary Flood swims with the sharks

Mary Flood swims with the sharks on the Legal Trade Blog and at the Houston Chronicle, ahead of some upcoming CLE courses entitled “THE CAR CRASH SEMINAR”. The subject of advertising came up, as it must in all conversations about Jim Adler.

Donald Kidd, a former Fulbright & Jaworski lawyer who works with Adler, said the firm advertises looking for folks who don’t know lawyers. He said the ads mentioning dollar amounts don’t run anymore. Kidd, who has a sterling reputation as a trial lawyer, will teach a UT seminar section on evaluating which cases a car crash lawyer should take. “There are people out there who respond to the advertising and those who don’t,” Kidd said.

From Fulbright & Jaworski to Jim Adler. His mother must be proud.

Tough Smart Jim Adler is hammerin’ away on myspace as well. The copy from his website is, and I quote, “Do you have a myspace account? Let me be your friend. You never know when you might need a lawyer.” Let me be your friend?

Houston Chronicle: Ads pivotal for car crash lawyers, Legal Trade Blog: Car Crash Lawyers Scramble

I was a film major

I was. It’s true. A film major. It’s not the kind of thing I bring up when lawyers or professors ask me about my undergrad. I honestly don’t know how in the hell I ended up in law school. Neither does any one else. I think my father is still sort of hoping I’ll just be a writer, you know, the starving, great-American-novel kind. I may not make any money, but at least he wouldn’t have to think of me out there, you know, suing people. The folks I knew in film school are generally baffled and saddened at my transition. At best, I’ve sold out artistically. At worst, I’ve just become, well, ordinary, that is to say, ambitious in most cloyingly bourgeois way.

Joys of Law School Orientation

It’s an easy thing to not explain. I mention it now only because we just had orientation for the incoming class of evening students at the University of Houston and it reminded me how much fun law school is. It also reminded me of the awkward intermingling of exhilaration and terror those first few weeks can bring. Orientation is the speed dating of law school. You get to answer the same three questions – (1) the who, what, where, why of your undergrad (2) why you came to law school and (3) what kind of law you want to practice – over and over and over again. None of this matters or is very interesting to anyone, but it’s all most people can think of to talk about in between the scintillating presentations on how to set up e-mail and how to calculate your impending debt load. My advice – make crap up. It keeps it interesting and no one really cares or remembers.

At the time, however, knowing the answers to these questions can seem very, very, very important. Some of your classmates, you soon learn, are already planning a lucrative ERISA practice, parlaying their extensive experience of having had or heard of a 401(k) into an associateship at Blah, Blah & Blah downtown law firm where they’ll get some experience before making the jump to General Counsel at BlahCorp. You may not know how eye-scaldingly boring and yet still preposterous that sounds for a while yet. For some of you, your failure to concoct such an elaborate plan for your life’s work seems to make plain to everyone your nagging suspicion that you have no idea what you’re doing here and obviously there has been some sort of programming error in the computer system at admissions. Relax.

I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It Law School Likes Me

People show up at law school for all types of reasons. Maybe you come from a family of lawyers and dare not disappoint. Maybe you’re just naturally combative and need to channel it into a socially redeeming avenue before someone snaps and kills you. Maybe you want to save the whales. Maybe you want to sue the whales. The chances are the reason you showed up to law school will change, probably more than once. The reason why is far less important than how you react when once you get there. Rehnquist, the late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, famously went to law school after taking an occupational test that told him he should be a lawyer. Just think, you were bright enough to come up with the idea of going to law school all by yourself.

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