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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Whosarat.com exposes identities of witnesses cooperating with the government

Justice Dept. and the Courts grapple with issues of Public Access and Protection of Witnesses & Informants in this NY Times article, Web Sites Listing Informants Concern Justice Dept.

Frank O. Bowman, a former federal prosecutor who teaches law at the University of Missouri, disputed that. “It’s reprehensible and very dangerous,” Professor Bowman said of the site. “People are going to die as a result of this.”

Defendants who choose to go to trial will, of course, eventually learn the identities of the witnesses who testify against them. But the site also discloses the identities of people engaged in undercover operations and those whose information is merely used to build a case. The widespread dissemination of informants’ identities, moreover, may subject them to retribution from friends and associates of the defendant.

Still, Professor Bowman, an authority on federal sentencing law, said he would hate to see the routine sealing of plea agreements. “It certainly is terribly important for the public ultimately to know who’s flipped,” he said.

Professor Bowman added that he was studying the deals prosecutors made in the aftermath of the collapse of Enron, the energy company. “To do that effectively,” he said, “I really need to know who flipped and the nature of their plea agreements.”

Computer Crime in the Headlines

I’m a getting a bit more nervous now sitting here on this public wifi in the coffee shop…

Wired: Linkin Park’s Mysterious Cyberstalker

…he started to examine the messages in Talinda’s out-box that had been sent without her knowledge. The activity on the account ran all hours of the day.

Dimitrelos pulled up the header of each email, which shows the Internet protocol address it was sent from. As he eyeballed several messages, one IP address kept popping up. Dimitrelos ran a program to trace the address. When the results flashed on the screen, his eyes widened. “Sandia?” he said. “This can’t be right.”

Sandia National Laboratories is one of the Department of Energy’s three nuclear weapons research facilities. Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it was created in 1949 by J. Robert Oppenheimer, former head of the nearby Los Alamos lab, as a center for developing the technology that goes into nuclear bombs. The lab is run by the Sandia Corporation, which is owned by defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

NY Times: Online Invitation to ‘Help Yourself’ Surprises the Stuff’s Owner

“House being demolished,” read the posting on March 24. “Come and take whatever you want, nothing is off limits. Items outside and garage will be open for access into house. Please help yourself to anything on property at 1202 East 64th Street. Tacoma.”

Within a week, the unoccupied house at that address in Tacoma, Wash., had been picked clean. Living room window? Gone. Water heater? Gone. Kitchen sink? Naturally.

DaniWeb: Battle of the botnets

For the average user spam has always been an annoyance. For the average spammer it has always been about making money. For the criminal gangs that have muscled in on this lucrative industry during the last few years it is now about territory and control. Control, that is, of the botnets behind the malware distribution networks that they rent out to the spamming middle men to enable them to ply their trade in relative safety from the crippled arm of the law.

Tenants’ Council of Houston, founded by UHLC alum David Sadegh, helps resolve tenant disputes

An article in yesterday’s Houston Chronicle features David Sadegh, a recent graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, who started the Tenants’ Council of Houston, an organization that helps tenants resolve disputes with landlords.

The council is a clearinghouse of information about tenant and landlord rights. The staff — eventually to include several law student interns — will guide people through the dispute resolution process but not offer legal assistance, he said.

People who need further help will be referred to other organizations including free legal aid groups that serve low-income residents.

“Our goal is to avoid having disputes deteriorate into lawsuits,” Sadegh said.

Phyllis Wilson, 49, of Houston, said she found the council on the Internet, and received helpful advice after her landlord didn’t make repairs he agreed to make when she moved into an apartment.

She got a call-back and e-mail the day after she called.

Houston Chronicle: Lawyer fights for tenants’ rights

The CSI Effect

Jeffrey Toobin reports in the New Yorker: The CSI Effect: The truth about forensic science. Judges and prosecutors complain that the show is raising jurors’ expectations of the forensic evidence that should be available and presented to convict.

“I just met with the conference of Louisiana judges, and, when I asked if ‘CSI’ had influenced their juries, every one of them raised their hands,” Carol Henderson, the director of the National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law, at Stetson University, in Florida, told me. “People are riveted by the idea that science can solve crimes.”

The same words often carry different meanings in science and the law, reflecting a difference in approach that can be problematic.

The fictional criminalists speak with a certainty that their real-life counterparts do not. “We never use the word ‘match,’ ” Faber, a thirty-eight-year-old Harvard graduate, told me. “The terminology is very important. On TV, they always like to say words like ‘match,’ but we say ‘similar,’ or ‘could have come from’ or ‘is associated with.’ ”

Virtually all the forensic-science tests depicted on “CSI”—including analyses of bite marks, blood spatter, handwriting, firearm and tool marks, and voices, as well as of hair and fibres—rely on the judgments of individual experts and cannot easily be subjected to statistical verification.

Yet not only do the words of forensic science and the certainty they are meant to convey give rise to problems, some of the essential concepts of forensic science have come under fire.

“There are really two kinds of forensic science,” says Michael J. Saks, a professor of law and psychology at Arizona State University, and a prominent critic of the way such science is used in courtrooms. “The first is very straightforward. It says, ‘We have a dead body. Let’s see what chemicals are in the blood. Is there alcohol? Cocaine?’ That is real science applied to a forensics problem. The other half of forensic science has been invented by and for police departments, and that includes finger-prints, handwriting, tool marks, tire marks, hair and fibre. All of those essentially share one belief, which is that there are no two specimens that are alike except those from the same source.” Saks and other experts argue that there is no objective basis for making the link between a “q” and a “k.” “There is no scientific evidence, no validation studies, or anything else that scientists usually demand, for that proposition—that, say, two hairs that look alike came from the same person,” Saks said. “It’s the individualization fallacy, and it’s not real science. It’s faith-based science.”

Hair analysis has given rise to a particularly contentious debate both among forensic scientists and in the criminal justice system that must decide if it will continue to rely on it and under what circumstances.

Student Loan Repayment Assistance for Prosecutors, Defenders

As previously mentioned in Public Sector Attorney Loan Repayment; U.S. Public Service Academy, H.R. 916: John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act of 2007 has passed the house and awaits the Senate. If that sounds a bit hazy, take this opportunity to brush up on your legislative process.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Georgia Democrat David Scott, H.R. 916 aims to do the following:

  • Establishes a program of student loan repayment for borrowers who agree to remain employed, for at least three years, as State or local criminal prosecutors or as State, local or Federal public defenders in criminal cases;
  • Allows eligible attorneys to receive student loan debt repayments of up to $10,000 per year, with a maximum aggregate over time of $60,000;
  • Covers student loans made, insured or guaranteed under the Higher Education Act of 1965, including consolidation loans;
  • Permits attorneys to enter into additional loan repayment agreements, after the required three-year period, for additional periods of service;
  • Requires attorneys to repay the government if they do not complete their required period of service; and
  • Authorizes $25 million per year through FY 2013 after which the program would sunset unless re-authorized.

See WSJ: Uncle Sam Wants You and Will Pay Off Your Loans

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