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Rapper Pras Michel Contests Conviction Because of Lawyer’s Use of AI

By Steven Ellison, Esq. | Last updated on

AI may someday prove to be a boon to practicing attorneys, but right now you might want to stick with the tools you know. A new AI program is being blamed in part for a defendant's conviction in a high-profile international conspiracy case.

On April 26, 2023, Grammy-winning rapper and Fugees member Prakazrel (Pras) Michel was found guilty of 10 criminal counts in federal court. He had been indicted for illegally donating to the Obama campaign and for lobbying the Trump Administration to deter investigations into the 1MDB corruption, bribery, and money laundering scandal involving Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho (Jho Low). Michel was represented by David Kenner, Snoop Dog's former lawyer, at trial.

Michel's Motion for a New Trial

Michel's new lawyers at ArentFox Schiff have asked the court to grant him a new trial. They point the finger squarely at Kenner, claiming he rendered Michel ineffective assistance of counsel.

Most of their motion is devoted to other grounds, but two of them are of particular interest here. The first is that they claim Kenner used an experimental AI program called EyeLevel.AI to draft what they characterize as a constitutionally deficient closing argument. The second is that Kenner may have had a financial interest in the company that makes EyeLevel.AI and allegedly used the program to promote it in marketing materials at the expense of his client (a conflict of interest, as it were). Let's go over each of these arguments.

Write Your Own Closings!

The U.S. Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant the right to effective assistance of counsel. The standard for ineffectiveness is whether the lawyer's conduct so undermined the adversarial process that you can't rely on the outcome of the trial to be just.

Michel's new lawyers argue that Kenner rendered ineffective assistance in a variety of ways, but specifically focus on his closing argument. Many trial lawyers will tell you that the closing is probably the most important part of a trial. Michel's lawyers assert that Kenner generated his closing using a proprietary prototype AI model.

Using a tool to help write your argument might be okay — in theory. But you still have to do your job. Like, go over it and make sure it's sound, legally and factually. According to Michel's new lawyers, “Kenner's closing argument made frivolous arguments, misapprehended the required elements, conflated the [alleged conspiracy] schemes, and ignored critical weaknesses in the Government's case."

In other words, the AI-generated closing actually hurt the defense. We'd have to dive too far into the legal weeds to give you the details of the complicated fact pattern (the motion for a new trial is nearly 60 pages long), but the bottom line is that AI doesn't have a law degree and you cannot expect it to make sound judgments about how to close a case.

Why Use A Trial You Lost to Promote Your AI Company?

But it wasn't just the closing itself that was the problem. There was also an alleged AI-related conflict of interest. Under what's called the Cuyler standard, a defendant can prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim by showing that an actual conflict with their lawyer existed and that the conflict had an adverse effect on the defendant during trial, even if they can't show that the outcome would have been different.

Michel's new lawyers claim that there was such a conflict. But it took some sleuthing to uncover. In a press release following the trial, EyeLevel announced that its AI program had been launched with “technology partner CaseFile Connect." Although CaseFile Connect's owners were not listed on its website, its business address was. That address happens to be, according to the California Bar website, the same address as Kenner's law firm. Another CaseFile Connect office shares an address with Kenner's co-counsel, Alon Israely.

Michel's lawyers put two and two together and argue that Kenner must have had a financial interest in EyeLevel.AI. They contend that Kenner used the program so he could promote it as the first use of AI in a federal trial, even though the program produced a constitutionally deficient closing argument.

This argument is buried on page 42 of the motion for a new trial, which suggests that Michel's lawyers don't believe it is one of their stronger ones. And they are probably right. Kenner and his co-counsel may own a financial interest in CaseFile Connect. If so, they have an interest in the success of EyeLevel.AI and would thus have an incentive to win the trial. That, of course, is consistent with Michel's interests. That they lost the trial undermines the argument that a conflict of interest, as opposed to the deficient argument itself, adversely affected Michel.

Will Michel Get a New Trial?

As we noted in the beginning, these AI-related arguments are just two of a whole slew of other arguments in the motion for a new trial. If the rest of the motion is to be believed, the use of an experimental AI program to write the closing would have been the least of Kenner's failings.

But the bottom line for our purposes? If using it can be grounds for a new trial, AI isn't quite ready for prime time yet. Lawyers use it at their own peril.

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