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Legal Rebels Profiles

Locked in: Criminal justice startups tap into generative AI’s early promise

By Matt Reynolds

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Lady Justice

Devshi Mehrotra and Leslie Jones-Dove co-founded JusticeText in 2019 to try to level the playing field for overworked public defenders combing through video depositions, police interviews and bodycam footage, creating an artificial intelligence tool that automatically identifies key evidence.

As the two ABA Journal 2022 Legal Rebels build on their lofty ambitions to create a more equitable criminal justice system, they now have another tool at their disposal: generative AI. They have wasted no time in putting it to use.

Powered by OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the startup introduced a new feature called MirandaAI, which it rolled out in July after beta-testing it with 50 public defender offices. The AI assistant turns around quick automated summaries of written evidence, including transcripts of police interrogations and interactions, Mehrotra says. Additionally, it helps users skip around a transcript to identify evidence, such as whether officers read a person his or her Miranda rights.

“We recognize criminal cases that are going to trial include tens if not hundreds of hours of discovery,” Mehrotra says. “If we can start finding ways to leverage generative AI to find patterns in 50 files rather than having to do it one file at a time, that could be incredibly powerful.”

In addition to going up against prosecutors with bigger budgets, many public defender officers are dealing with a crisis in staffing, curbing their ability to help defendants who can’t afford attorneys and leading to worse outcomes.

Brian J. Walker, a public defender in Eugene, Oregon, is one of MirandaAI’s early adopters. He estimates JusticeText is saving him up to 10 hours a week.

“It makes me available for doing other tasks for clients and potentially taking more cases,” Walker says. “I think it could be a big part of solving the public defender crisis.”

Rasa Legal, an app enabling eligible people with criminal records to quickly and cheaply expunge their criminal histories in Arizona and Utah, is among the other startups experimenting with generative AI. Founder and CEO Noella Sudbury says her company plans to roll out a GPT-based tool this year that will automatically write personal statements for clients. Typically, judges consider these statements when deciding whether to clear someone’s record.

To date, Rasa staff members have written 3,000 petitions based on client questionnaires and personal histories. The company is training its software on Rasa’s database of answers so a bot can write first drafts of statements for clients to submit to court.

“It’s going to save our team a ton of time if we can have generative AI do the first draft,” Sudbury says, adding there are always time and money constraints for early-stage startups.

But not everyone working in the criminal justice space is a convert. Emma Greenwood, a technology expert and defense attorney at the Greenwood Law Group and a 2014 ABA Journal Legal Rebel, helps defense attorneys with e-discovery and technology management.

Although Greenwood urges lawyers to dabble with ChatGPT, she says there are kinks that need to be ironed out first. In the case of generative AI chatbots, many have voiced concerns about inaccuracies in content and the danger that bots can inject bias into their responses.

“We’re still watching from the sidelines to see how the early adoption wave plays out,” Greenwood says. “When it comes to the very personal side of criminal defense, you don’t want to play around with someone’s life.”

Legal Rebels Class of 2024

Locked in: Criminal justice startups tap into generative AI’s early promise

Bridging the Gap: Lawyers trying to increase access to justice see promise in generative AI

Helping Hand: Generative AI already is making an impact on legal research and writing

Always on: Will generative AI alleviate burnout or make lawyers more miserable?

Head of the Class: Law schools consider post-ChatGPT coursework

e-Sign on the Dotted Line: When it comes to using generative AI and contracts, the devil is in the details

Age of e-Discovery: Generative AI could revolutionize e-discovery—but buyer beware

Rewiring Entry: How AI could blur the borders of immigration law

This story was originally published in the February-March 2024 issue of the ABA Journal.

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