Almost Legal on Almost Human

Almost Human is a great ride in Constitutional criminal procedure. Could a robot be a police officer? Could a robot police officer arrest a human being? How about testify in court? What possible issues could arise from robotic law enforcement?

The most legally helpful comparisons we have are red light cameras and police dogs.

I blogged on hearsay issues over red light cameras on Bow Tie Law with PhotoCop & The Red Light of Admissibility. The California Supreme Court has held that that “our courts have refused to require, as a prerequisite to admission of computer records, testimony on the ‘acceptability, accuracy, maintenance, and reliability of … computer hardware and software.’ ” People v. Goldsmith, 203 Cal. App. 4th 1515, 1523 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 2012).

What would that mean for a robot? Would any “testimony” from a robot be testimony or merely computer records?

If we are treating robots like “people,” they would be testifying in court. If we are merely processing data from a robot police officer, then the robot police officer could not technically make a statement, because the robot is not a person under the California Evidence Code section 175.

There is a large number of cases focused on police dogs. In one case, the failure to give a verbal warning by police before using a dog trained to bite and hold was sufficient to state a Fourth Amendment claim. Kuha v City of Minnetonka, 328 F.3d 427 (8th Cir., 2003). Other cases address excessive force with untrained police dogs. Campbell v the City of Springboro, 788 F.Supp.2nd 637 (S.D. Ohio, 2011). States also have punishments for harming police dogs. State v. Kisor, 844 P.2d 1038 (Wash.App.Div. 2, 1993), Utah Code Ann. 76-9-306.

The precedents for police dogs ranging from class three felony for intentionally harming a dog to excessive force lawsuits give a preview of how robotic police officers could be viewed by the law. A robot police officer that acts human, works with humans and protects humans, would likely be viewed as a “police officer” under the law. This would include enhanced punishments for destroying a robot police officer and even civil rights violations.

Will we see these issues unfold on Almost Human? I do not know, but would be happy to brainstorm with the writers.

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