Monday, March 14, 2011

The best trial lawyers are good poker players

At least that's what I've been told. Well, if that's true, naybe soon we will have some trial bots:

Poker bots are not new, but until recently they were not very good. Humans were better at the nuances of the game — at bluffing, for instance — and could routinely beat the machines. But artificial intelligence has come a long way in the last few years, far enough that poker bots are now good enough to win tens of thousands of dollars on major game sites, which are clamping down on them.
It turns out to be a lot easier to build a perfect chess player than a poker whiz. Chess is a perfect information game: if you look at a chessboard, you know the exact state of the game from both players’ perspectives. And the rules of the game are not affected by chance, like the drawing of a card.

But in poker, an imperfect information game, there are many unknown variables. A player does not know his opponents’ cards and may not know their style of play — how aggressive they tend to be, for instance, or how often they bluff.

Unlike a chess bot, a poker bot does most of its work before the match, running millions of simulations before the first card is dealt. But even with the large amounts of memory available with today’s computers, storing — or even computing — information for every possible scenario would be implausible.

It used to be that robots could conduct sentencing hearings, but judges now have discretion again, thank goodness. Now the Supreme Court is just trying to make sure that judges know it:

But perhaps his fortunes have turned again. The Supreme Court plucked his petition from the thousands that make their way to the court each year. This month, Pepper won his case in a victory that gives federal judges more leeway to provide second chances to the criminals who come before them.

The ruling will clarify the rules that guide judges as they try to set sentences that both comport with national norms and ensure justice is done in individual cases.

But Pepper v. United States also is a reminder of the real people behind the court's cases. It comes with a story that might make even the most objective balls-and-strikes umpire on the mahogany bench feel a tinge of (can it be said?) empathy.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote the court's 8 to 1 decision, summed up the parameters of Pepper's journey through the halls of justice pretty well.

"At the time of his initial sentencing in 2004, Pepper was a 25-year-old drug addict who was unemployed, estranged from his family and had recently sold drugs as part of a methamphetamine conspiracy," Sotomayor wrote. "By the time of his second resentencing in 2009, Pepper had been drug-free for nearly five years, had attended college and achieved high grades, was a top employee at his job slated for a promotion, had re-established a relationship with his father, and was married and supporting his wife's daughter."

UPDATED -- In today's DBR, John Pacenti covers another area where discretion is really needed -- the sentencing of the aging. The sentencing commission has finally changed the guideline in this area, but it's not enough if judges aren't going to consider age. Joel Hirschhorn has some great quotes in the article. Here's one:

"The BOP has a long and sad rich history of finding that those who are sent to their facility are competent to stand trial," Hirschhorn said. "If BOP decides he no longer has frontotemporal lobe dementia and they send him back for sentencing, I will ask the judge to enter an order to give me a sample of the waters the doctors are drinking."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can name several AUSA's and District Judges who are in fact bots. Now, if we can just get a good hacker to reprogram them . . .