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Pre-Sentencing Investigations: Arguing with the Algorithm

Wisconsin courts will usually order the State to conduct a pre-sentencing investigation before sentencing a criminal defendant who has been found guilty of serious charges or agreed to a case settlement. The defendant’s attorney can and should request an independent pre-sentencing investigation. The court will use the reports made by the investigators when considering the defendant’s sentence. Pre-sentencing investigation reports are meant to show the court the defendant’s entire background, presenting the defendant as a human being, however flawed. This is meant to ensure equitable sentences. However, the State’s report, the one that is supposed to give the court a picture of the individual, is actually generated by a computer algorithm, not a human.

The State relies solely on a proprietary algorithm called COMPAS, which is an acronym for Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions. It’s a computer program that profiles specific groups, not individuals, and then based on calculations that remain a guarded secret, the program, not the investigator, makes a recomendation on how long the human defendant should spend in prison. It’s like the Minority Report, the 2002 movie where police arrested people for crimes they haven’t yet committed. The State basis its recommendation based on foreknowledge, except their knowledge of the defendant’s future comes from an algorithm, not some sleepy clairvoyants.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that even though no one knows how it works because it is proprietary, using the algorithm does not violate a defendant’s right to due process. State v. Loomis, 2016 WI 68, 371 Wis. 2d 235, 881 N.W.2d 74.

Criminal Defense Attorneys who want to ensure the best sentencing outcomes for their clients need an licensed investigator who knows the law, knows the judicial guidelines, and knows how to write a pre-sentencing investigation memo that stands up to the algorithm. Not only am I a Wisconsin licensed private detective, license no. 12845-63, I hold a law degree and am an accomplished legal and professional writer. My pre-sentencing investigations are thorough. My memorandums for filing with the court are precise, calculated to present the defendant as a human being.

My flat rate for independant pre-sentencing investigations, including a memorandum for filing with the court, is $1,200.00. Contact me at JCook@NorthwoodsDiscovery.com for more information.

What Is Surveillance?

What does surveillance meant to you? Jim Nanos, publisher of PI Magazine, posed the question to me when I appeared on the PI Podcast. I had to think about it for a moment. Everyone knows what surveillance is, right? Surveillance is watching someone without them knowing they’re being watched. But at its core, professional surveillance … Continue reading “What Is Surveillance?”

What does surveillance meant to you? Jim Nanos, publisher of PI Magazine, posed the question to me when I appeared on the PI Podcast. I had to think about it for a moment. Everyone knows what surveillance is, right? Surveillance is watching someone without them knowing they’re being watched. But at its core, professional surveillance is purposeful observation of subject. When professional investigators conduct surveillance, they are collecting evidence, not just wantonly lurking about hoping for some random sighting. Professional investigators have a plan.

Professional investigators always meet with the attorney client before beginning an investigation. The attorney explains the legal theory she’s working under, the evidence she has, and then describes the evidence she needs. In cases where the evidence involves surveillance, the investigator has to know what sort of evidence they will be gathering. In a custody case, the investigator may need evidence that puts a parent and child at a residence where there is drug activity. In this situation, a photograph of a vehicle, even one that clearly shows a license plate, is useless without a photograph or video of the child. There are a dozen reasons why someone’s car may be outside of a residence. A seasoned professional investigator knows that they have to capture images of the child at the residence. Anything less, and the attorney won’t prevail on her case.

I was working a custody case in the Northwoods awhile back. The case involved a parent who was not abiding by court’s custody and placement order. Specifically, one parent was allowing the child to go on hunting trips and carry a loaded gun through the woods. The child was eight at the time. The attorney needed photographs of the child carrying the firearm.

The attorney was able to tell me where the other parent hunted. Because this location was on public ground, I was able to place trail cameras deep in the Chequamegon National Forest and capture the images I needed. Communication between the attorney and the investigator is key to formulating a solid surveillance plan that will yield results.

Professional surveillance is purposeful surveillance. It’s calculated to produce credible, admissible evidence for use by the attorney client. Licensed Wisconsin Attorneys who need credible, admissible evidence are encouraged to contact me at JCook@NorthwoodsDiscovery.com to schedule a time to discuss your evidentiary needs.