Consider these tacks with
coordinates on a Google Earth map.
Notice that one tack is north of the yellow U.S. - Mexico
border, and one is south?
One of these two tacks isn't hearsay - it was generated by a “machine.” (Google algorithms
in a Finnish server farm). The second tack, by contrast, was created on the map by a deliberately
untruthful “person.” Fed. R. Evid. 801(a).
Can you tell which tack is which?
The Ninth can. United States v. Lizarraga-Tirado, 2015 WL 3772772 (9th Cir. June
18, 2015), decision available here.
Players: Decision by
Judge Kozinski, joined by Judge Graber and D.J. Ponsor.
Facts: Lizarraga-Tirado was charged with illegal reentry
after being arrested at night near the border. Id. at *1. At trial he disputed he had crossed the border, and argued the agents had arrested him in
Mexico. Id. An agent testified that
she had documented the GPS coordinates of the arrest on a handheld device. Id. The government then introduced a Google
Earth satellite image to illustrate the location of those coordinates. Id. The image (appended to the
decision), has a “tack” that lists numerical coordinates that are in the U.S. Id. at Appendix A. The defense objected
to the image on hearsay grounds. Id.
Issue(s): “Defendant claims that both the satellite image on
its own and the digitally added tack and coordinates were impermissible
hearsay.” Id. at *2.
Held: 1. “Because
a satellite image, like a photograph, makes no assertion, it isn’t hearsay.” Id. 2. “A tack placed by the Google
Earth program and automatically labelled with GPS coordinates isn’t hearsay . .
. Here, the relevant assertion isn’t made by a person; it’s made by the Google
Earth program . . . Because the program makes the relevant assertion – that the
tack is accurately placed at the labeled GPS coordinates – there’s no statement
as defined by the hearsay rule. In reaching that conclusion, we join other
circuits that have held that machine statements aren’t hearsay.” Id. at *3.
Of Note: Judge Kozinski, a tech aficionado, writes an
interesting but somewhat troubling decision. How did the Ninth know that Google Earth tacked the tack on the map,
instead of an agent placing it there
and labeling it with the coordinates? That fact wasn’t established at trial. See id. at *1.
The Court deduces this critical
fact (which makes a huge difference in the hearsay analysis) by running Google
Earth itself, and comparing the results with the map introduced in evidence. Id. at *2 (taking judicial notice of the
fact that the tack was automatically generated). The problem is that the Google-generated tack, and a human-created tack, are actually
identical and are indistinguishable on a Google Earth picture. See image above.
Judges independently running software and
taking judicial notice is uncomfortable territory. Evidence and tech gurus (and
maybe I.P. folks?) will want to take a very close look at the Ninth’s techie
The little Lizarraga-Tirado decision could become a Big Case, as cell service
providers comply with FCC E911rules, turn from cell site location methods, and rely
more heavily on satellite location technologies (creating data ripe for federal
agent conversion into Google Maps).
How to Use:
the idea of our Robot Overlords getting a hearsay pass? Take heart, John
Connor: the fight goes on. Concerns that a “machine might malfunction, produce
inconsistent results or have been tampered with” . . . “are addressed by the
rules of authentication, not hearsay.” Id.
at *3. Judge Kozinski reviews Fed. R. Evid. 901(a), and notes that the proponent must show that the machine is
reliable and correctly calibrated. Id.
at *3. That authentication challenge wasn’t raised in this case, so that fight
survives for another day.
Reading: Big week, for federal evidence. On
June 18, the Supreme Court issued its latest Crawford decision in Ohio v.
Clark. For thoughtful discussion of the decision (and the divisions that
underlie the unanimous outcome), see
Lyle Denniston, Opinion Analysis:
Crawford narrowed, Atkins solidified, available here.
from Google Maps
Labels: Authentication, Evidence, GPS, Hearsay, Kozinski, Technology