You Fiend—You Used Google Street View in Committing Your Crime!

A 2010 Louisiana statute calls for an extra year in prison if you use such an atrocious tactic.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

I just came across this Louisiana law, enacted in 2010:

When an Internet, virtual, street-level map is used in the commission of a criminal offense against a person or against property, an additional sentence for a period of not less than one year shall be imposed. The additional penalty imposed pursuant to this Subsection shall be served consecutively with the sentence imposed for the underlying offense.

"Internet, virtual, street-level map" means any map or image that contains the picture or pictures of homes, buildings, or people that are taken and dispensed, electronically, over the Internet or by a computer network, where the picture can be accessed by entering the address of the home, building, or person.

Oh, and if you use it "in the commission or attempted commission of an act of terrorism, as is defined in R.S. 14:100.12(1)," that's ten extra years for you—you're not just a terrorist, you're a super-evil Google-Street-View-using terrorist.

Yes, as you might gather, I do think this is an odd reason to enhance a criminal's sentence.

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34 responses to “You Fiend—You Used Google Street View in Committing Your Crime!

  1. Without wishing to set myself up as a defender of the Louisiana legislature and all its works, a role I doubt that I would wish to play for very long, I don’t think this law is particularly odd. It employs a cost / benefit approach to deterrence.The costs to the criminal of committing a crime involve time and effort, possibly some money invested, risks of getting caught, convicted and punished, risks of getting hurt. And so on. A complex amalgam. If the legislature thinks it’s got its balance of costs and benefits for criminals about right, and then a new technology arises which decreases the costs to the criminal (eg by making it easier to case the joint without being spotted) then it’s quite rational for the legislature to adjust the costs back up again by increasing the penalty. That doesn’t imply that the crime has suddenly become wickeder because the new technology has been used. It just means that the crime has become easier to commit and so to keep the expected value of {risk of detection x risk of conviction x punishment on conviction} unchanged, you need to tweak one of the other terms.

    1. I think it makes more sense to just add a year on to the punishment for all crimes that can be committed with Google Street View.

      1. Possibly, though I have a feeling that the courts are a bit prejudiced against “vague” laws, and that sounds pretty vague to me. Does avoid the need to prove that this new fangled tecky stuff was actually used though, which would go down very well with prosecutors.

    2. “It employs a cost / benefit approach to deterrence.”

      That may be the reasoning, but for it to be effective deterrence in practice your average burglar would have to both know that there was an enhanced penalty, and not go to the trivial effort to use Street View anonymously. Those seem unlikely, especially the first.

      (My sense is that crooks rarely study the law with an eye to minimizing their sentence if caught. For example, you read about crooks caught with guns that have defaced serial numbers. I’m open to correction, but I think that the penalty for a defaced serial number is usually at least as severe, if not more so, than the penalty for having a stolen gun (not to mention that the serial number can usually be forensically recovered). But they seem to file off a lot of serial numbers anyway.)

      1. Have you considered that the serial numbers might have been filed off by the source of the gun, not the criminal who ultimately used it? To reduce the odds of it being traced back to them?

      2. 1. no, not “your average burglar”; “some burglars” – deterrence is not useless if it only deters some criminals.
        2. the effort to use Street View anonymously may be trivial to you, but it is not necessarily trivial to everyone
        3. again, the fact – if true – that crooks rarely study the law with a view to minimising their sentence if caught, doesn’t mean crooks never do this. In fact we know that sometimes they do – see for example Roper v Simmons
        4. I also doubt that the stipulated fact is anywhere near true. You don’t have to study law books to find out bits of law that affect your chosen profession. You can learn from war stories you hear in jail.
        5. And last but not least, there’s incapacitation as well as deterrence. If some exogenous event makes it easier to commit some types of crime, and you – the legislature – want to minimise the unfortunate effects, you may wish to tweak the incapacitation knob as well as the deterrence knob. Even if you don’t believe that increasing the punishment will have any deterrent effect at all, you can still rely on some payoff from incapacitation – keeping repeat offenders off the streets for longer.

        But that is to a large extent, obiter. My ratio is much more straightforward. Criminal penalties are not set wholly by reference to the moral turpitude of the crime. There are other considerations which might make it perfectly reasonable to have, across time, higher, or lower penalties for exactly the same crime.

        1. I might add re 3 that there was a case in the UK a few years back, in some area where two gangs of youths were in conflict. The head of one gang (age 21 or so) was in jail, but members of the opposing gang in the same jail found out he was due to be released. So they got a message out alerting their gang to the exact time he was going to be released. So when he was released, the other gang was ready and waiting and he was murdered a few steps from the jail entrance. But the gang which did the murder made sure that the shooter was a fifteen year old kid, not one of older guys. It came out in the police interviews that they knew perfectly well what they were doing.

        2. But laws such as this also have significant costs.

          1) Every additional law contributes to overcharging, which increases the leverage prosecutors have to extract false confessions and the degree to which bias can affect their decisions.
          2) It increases law enforcement cost since the cops are now encouraged to investigate the offender’s internet usage to find evidence of the aggravating offence. And it burdens the courts since jurists need to incorporate that into their duties.
          3) The sentence should fundamentally reflect the moral gravity of the crime, the moral gap between a burglary, or a burglary with street view is hardly “a period of not less than one year”.

          Certainly criminals pay some attention to minimizing punishment, but they also tend to overlook a lot of significant risks. I doubt they’ll pay much attention to something as esoteric and relatively minor as an extra year for street view.

          1. The sentence should fundamentally reflect the moral gravity of the crime

            That could, of course, mean almost anything. But I suspect I disagree with what you really mean. The moral gravity of the crime is a constraint on the range of sentences. Justice should play some role in sentencing, and a savage sentence for a trivial crime or a trivial sentence fo a serious one, are outside the constraints of justice. But the fundamental objective of having a criminal justice system at all is a practical one – to minimise the incidence of crime. Justice, and the avoidance of the criminal justice system itself becoming an ever greater assault on liberty than crime itself, are constraints, not the fundamental point of the exercise.

            Consequently the various levers of the criminal justice system need to be used to minimise crime. That is why it may be necessary to shoot looters in wartime. It’s not that stealing has somehow become wickeder, it’s because there may be no other option in the circumstances besides letting the looters get on with it unmolested.

            Death is not usually a morally proportionate punishment for stealing. But in some circumstances it is. Because the calculation of the proportion that is consistent with the constraint of justice must take into account the consequences of allowing the crime to go unpunished, or insufficiently punished to damp down the incidence of the crime.

          2. “The sentence should fundamentally reflect the moral gravity of the crime”

            I disagree, but I’m curious what you’ll say about my reasoning. I think there will always be a certain amount of crime and that the goal of sentencing is to deter it to a reasonable amount. Therefore, the punishment should be adjusted to reduce it to the minimum level reasonable. No, this doesn’t mean the death sentence for everything (see London/Sweeny Tod where stealing was punishable by death so you might as well kill the person you’re stealing from). But if a crime becomes more easy to accomplish and you start getting more of it, start increasing the penalty.

            1. “But if a crime becomes more easy to accomplish and you start getting more of it, start increasing the penalty.”

              Do you claim that Louisiana saw a surge in Street View-related crime, and this was the legislature’s considered response? Color me dubious.

              1. A lot of people on this thread seem to be struggling with the conceptual difference between :

                “People should eat more fruit”

                and

                “That rotten banana is good for you”

    3. Based on your reasoning, I would come to the opposite conclusion. The criminal should get one year less.

      If the criminal went to additional effort to go undetected, avoiding collateral damage, they ought to be allowed some credit for their humanity. Alternatively, a careless thug with little thought for human life ought to get the full sentence.

      Without equating fighting terrorism to perpetrating terrorism, similar reasoning applies to unmanned vs manned anti-personal aircraft. If a UAV results in less risk of collateral damage, then the UAV is more ethical, not less.

      1. Just out of interest, what “collateral damage” does casing a joint in person do ?

        1. I understood you to be saying Google maps could be used to help case a joint, in order to go undetected. Alternatively, if the criminal is detected, an ensuing confront may result in the criminal killing or injuring the witness in order to escape capture. The witness, from the criminals perspective, is then collateral damage, in that it was not the criminals goal to assult, but rather to steal.

  2. I would love to see how this is implemented in practice:

    So you used Google Maps to find a gas-station that enabled you to go to the mall (yes, I am old) where you bought the pants you used when you wrote a Facebook post making fun of a Parish sheriff?

    Isn’t that using a “street-level map” in the commission of an offense?

    1. No? What’s the crime?

      1. In Louisiana it is apparently a crime…. but that is actually sort of my point.

        1. I’m having a difficult time believing that there is a Louisiana statute that criminalizes “making fun of a Parish sheriff”. Could you link the statute? Also, if that’s what it criminalizes, the law sounds like it is unconstitutional.

      2. Criminal libel, of course.

        1. Criminal Libel, would that be calling a thief an upstanding citizen?

  3. I believe the issue has to do with targeting specific houses and planning the crime. However, there is no difference between using street view and actually going to the street and casing the place.

    1. “there is no difference between using street view and actually going to the street and casing the place.”

      I don’t think this is true.

      There is risk in casing a place. Physically being there means there is risk that you will be noticed ahead of time, risk after thefact that you will be recognized as having been in the area.

      With Street View, you don’t ever have to expose yourself to the place in advance.

  4. Well, as technology progresses that is another year or ten they can hold over a person just because of their car’s navigation system. Sounds legit.

  5. Reminds me of Florida Statutes 843.167, which enhances the penalties for using a police scanner to assist in committing a crime.

    What about Florida Statutes 775.0845, which enhances the penalties for wearing a mask during the committing a crime? Does that one make any more sense?

    Maybe the way these penalty enhancements wind up becoming law is that some legislator decides that they want to criminalize the act altogether, but First Amendment or other problems come up which prevent them from doing that, so they wind up settling for a penalty enhancement instead.

    1. Ok, more seriously, Florida Statutes 775.0845 was an anti-Klan measure.

      1. Sounds like I might have been on the right track for that one that they wanted to criminalize it altogether but couldn’t, then.

        1. More likely they wanted to outlaw the Klan, but not masquerade parties and Halloween. So they only made it illegal if you did it while committing crimes.

          1. A law like South Carolina 16-7-110 would make more sense if that was their goal (“over sixteen” allows kiddies to do Halloween, and “written permission of the owner and the occupant of such property” allows masquerade parties). FS 775.0845 both fails to outlaw the Klan and applies to people committing crimes while at masquerade parties or on Halloween.

            1. There’s never been a practical requirement that statutes be ideally drafted. I was simply pointing out there was an obvious historical basis for the statute: It actually IS an anti-Klan act.

              You can’t just “outlaw the Klan”; Freedom of association, you know. But you can go after people who commit crimes while wearing masks.

              Indeed, I’m still waiting for the Antifa to get nailed under the Klan acts, because they’re unambiguously violating them.

  6. “What about Florida Statutes 775.0845, which enhances the penalties for wearing a mask during the committing a crime? Does that one make any more sense?”

    Sure. Obstruction of justice. 😉

  7. Good idea. The real problem with today’s breed of criminal is that they’re just too lazy to do their own casing work!

  8. I do think that using Google Maps and Street View shows a level of planning and premeditation in the commission of a crime.
    I don’t know if that was the intent of the legislature.

  9. Technology like street view makes it much easier to commit certain crimes. A criminal can case homes with ease and even choose which houses offer the most concealment when entering.

    Plus, it allows a more random nature to home break-ins. A street view can show such vital information as to what kind of sliding door is on a home, and hence how easy it is to enter, and show information such as cameras and alarm systems. This allows criminals to more easily choose targets and reduce the risk of getting caught, so the penalty for such misuse of technology is to increase the penalty when the criminal is caught, as an offset to the reduced chances.

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