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Would an impersonal criminal system be an improvement?

Judges perform a difficult and vital role in this country. The decisions they make shape the lives of countless Americans in ways both subtle and dramatic. In criminal courts, the decisions made by judges make all the difference for the people facing charges. Attempts to shift the burden of decision-making a judge to an algorithm or mathematical equation should be scrutinized carefully. Mistakes may go ignored if they can hide behind the facade of impartiality.

Using an algorithm to set bail

One system currently gaining popularity uses an algorithm to identify which defendants are a safety or flight risk. Defendants are assigned a risk score. That score is given to judges who use it to determine whether a defendant should be released under court supervision or have to make bail in order to get out. 

Bail reform is starting to gain traction nationwide as statistics have shown the racial disparity inherent in the system. Many critics are dissatisfied with the status quo. The use of AI or standardized algorithms is one way to address the inequities of determining pretrial release.

Weighing the value of judicial discretion

Mandatory sentencing has an uneven history in criminal law. Some feel that allowing judges too much leeway in sentencing leads to unfair results. Others feel that judges are in the best position to determine how to properly address a criminal infraction. People on both sides of the argument can find examples of surprising, even shocking outcomes based on the presence or absence of established guidelines.

Algorithms, like mandatory sentences, carry the appearance of fairness, without necessarily delivering fair results. Data can be manipulated or misinterpreted to introduce racial, gender or class bias into the system. Eliminating bias is not as simple as implementing an algorithm. As new tools are introduced, it is important for everyone in the criminal law field to make sure that defendants' rights are protected and preserved.

Source: Missouri Lawyers Weekly, "AI in the court: When algorithms rule on jail time," by Associated Press, 1 February 2018

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  • Client was charged in federal court with the felony offense of being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm. After negotiation with the US Attorney's Office, the felony gun charge was dismissed and our client...

  • Our client was charged with statutory rape and faced mandatory registration as a sex offender if convicted. We were able to work with a forensic expert and the district attorney's office to negotiate a guilty plea..

  • Client charged with Felony Assault on a Police Officer, misdemeanor assault, and resisting an officer. After a jury trial where multiple police officers testified about the incident, our client was found not guilty ..

  • Client investigated by federal law enforcement for possessing child pornography. Ryan began representing the client during the investigation and ultimately the client was not charged with any crimes...

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Super Lawyers Board Certified Specialist | North Carolina State Bar | Federal / State Criminal Law
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