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Internet-Caused Mistrials Are On the Rise

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the jurors-with-blackberrys dept.

The Courts 414

The NYTimes is running a tip-of-the-iceberg story about how the age of Google is resulting in more mistrials as the traditional rules of evidence, honed over many centuries, collide with the always-on Internet. Especially when jurors carry the always-on Internet in their pockets. (We discussed one such case recently.) "The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges. ... Jurors are not supposed to seek information outside of the courtroom. They are required to reach a verdict based on only the facts the judge has decided are admissible, and they are not supposed to see evidence that has been excluded as prejudicial. But now, using their cellphones, they can look up the name of a defendant on the Web or examine an intersection using Google Maps, violating the legal system's complex rules of evidence."

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414 comments

Always on (-1, Offtopic)

jetsci (1470207) | more than 5 years ago | (#27240807)

I fail to see the problem with always on internet. Sure, its not appropriate in some places but I couldn't imagine now having access to <a href="http://www.wittyrpg.com">game!</a> or youtube when I want them. Don't tread on me!

judges oinstructions have always banned this (5, Insightful)

peter303 (12292) | more than 5 years ago | (#27240809)

Its just they have adapt these orders to be extremely explicit about the new kinds of communication. Face it, the average juror may not be that sharp and may not realize it until told.

Re:judges oinstructions have always banned this (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241075)

Psycho killer
Quest que cest
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

Re:judges oinstructions have always banned this (2, Funny)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241483)

Face it, the average juror may not be that sharp and may not realize it until told.

Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense! If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit!

Easy solution (4, Insightful)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 5 years ago | (#27240817)

Every juror is searched every day for any electronic device. No cell phones, no Blackberrys, no nothing. If the rules of court allow it, they get pencil and paper. Otherwise, they sit and listen.

This does not preclude someone from going home and looking up information, but it does solve the issue of doing things in court you shouldn't be doing while on a jury.

Re:Easy solution (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241123)

> Every juror is searched every day for any electronic device. No cell phones

But wouldn't that run contrary to the overriding goal of equipping every man, woman and child in the country with an electronic surveillance device to boost effectiveness of marketing efforts and counter criminal behavior?

Anyway, the US Constitution guarantees you a trial by a jury of your peers, but in 2009, do you really regard the people living anywhere in your county to be your "peers"? There are no requirements that they are literate or law abiding, only that they have a pulse and be stupid or bored enough not to get resist the call to judge others.

Re:Easy solution (5, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241181)

There are no requirements that they are literate or law abiding

Well I can't speak to the 'literate' requirement but it is generally understand that you need to be able to understand and communicate in the English language [nyjuror.gov] . You are dead wrong on the not needing to be law abiding too. A criminal record disqualifies you from jury service in every single state that I'm aware of.

do you really regard the people living anywhere in your county to be your "peers"?

I regard a randomly selected pool of 12 citizens more as my peers than I would some appointed judge or lawyer who may have a political agenda to advance. There are flaws in the jury system but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Re:Easy solution (3, Interesting)

sudotron (1459285) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241527)

[sarcasm]Because having, at some point in one's life, broken one of the labyrinthine maze of laws and rules that govern behavior in this country would obviously mean that one could never, under any circumstances, judge someone fairly and impartially.[/sarcasm]

Sorry--I myself have always wanted to do my civil duty and serve on a jury but know that I will never be able to because of some stupid stuff I did when I was young.

Re:Easy solution (2, Informative)

sleigher (961421) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241735)

Not sure about all states but once you are off parole/probation, your civil rights are returned, and you can then serve on a jury. So making a mistake once does not preclude you from service forever.

Re:Easy solution (5, Insightful)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241747)

I myself have always wanted to do my civil duty and serve on a jury but know that I will never be able to because of some stupid stuff I did when I was young.

There's the foolish indiscretions of youth, and then there's felonies.

Re:Easy solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241651)

ob. xkcd [xkcd.com]

Re:Easy solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241815)

Not dead wrong. How many juries did Bernard Madoff serve on for the last 40 years?

> You are dead wrong on the not needing to be law abiding too. A criminal record disqualifies you from jury service in every single state that I'm aware of.

You assumed that all people who are not law abiding are excluded from jury service because they would have a criminal record, which is ridiculous.

Re:Easy solution (1)

Ninnle Labs, LLC (1486095) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241883)

I regard a randomly selected pool of 12 citizens more as my peers than I would some appointed judge or lawyer who may have a political agenda to advance.

Because no one in a jury has a political agenda to advance?

Re:Easy solution (2, Interesting)

MeanMF (631837) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241215)

Last time I reported for Jury Duty they wouldn't even let me bring an iPod into the building, let alone anything with Internet access...I guess it's a state-by-state thing.

Re:Easy solution (2, Informative)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241755)

An iPod could easily have a news podcast on it.

Re:Easy solution (3, Interesting)

Crazy Man on Fire (153457) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241371)

When I was called up for jury duty last summer, I had to surrender my cell phone before going through the metal detector. I think other electronics were prohibited as well. Seems like this would be pretty simple to stop by a small rules change at the court house. Just ban cell phones and similar devices.

Re:Easy solution (3, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241467)

I take it you've never been on a jury. Do you have any idea how dull jury duty is? I was on a month long trial last summer and it was tedious and awkward. We all had very little in common and the one thing we did have in common was off limits for conversation.

It's difficult enough to get people to ditch work for a tiny stipend, imagine knowing that over the period of the trial that one's going to be bored out of ones mind during the many points where the jury isn't needed.

Re:Easy solution (4, Insightful)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241757)

Books come to mind. Besides, there's nothing that says you can't read online stories or news events. Just not what case you're deciding on. Are you saying you and others lack self-control so that for one month you can't not look at a news article related to your case? (ignore the double negative)

Of course, as the original article relates, the obvious answer is yes. Apparently people lack self-control, and common sense, to not read or listen to any news story about the case they are deciding on or even cases similar to the one you are deciding.

If the fact that the supposedly most intelligent creatures on the planet can't control themselves for one month to not look at something they aren't supposed to look at, then not having access to electronic devices is the price one must pay.

Re:Easy solution (3, Interesting)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241907)

That is the problem with the system, which explicitly fills large amounts of time with testimony of little or no real value to the case.

Most trials aren't really about "truth" as much as about being "fair". And what is "fair" is totally stacked against the state, and in favor of the defendant.

And people like OJ are free because Furman said the N word (slight over simplification). That's the system. Everyone knows OJ did it.

Re:Easy solution (2, Interesting)

jonnythan (79727) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241519)

That's all well and good in the courtroom but jurors go home at the end of the day. What are you going to do? Start sequestering every jury for every trial?

Re:Easy solution (2, Interesting)

chalkyj (927554) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241585)

What does that have to do with the Internet? Jurors can go home and read a newspaper to find out things that they're not meant to know too. If they want to go out and research things that they are not allowed to from home they don't need the internet to do it.

Re:Easy solution (3, Interesting)

jonnythan (79727) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241665)

The thing is that they're not supposed to read the newspaper. For one thing, it's relatively easy not to read the newspaper. And for another, the newspaper doesn't contain even a minute fraction of the info that can be found on Google and Wikipedia in 10 seconds.

I can get home from that day's proceedings and have Wikipedia summaries of the law, tons of background info on the defendant and plaintiff, and every news article about the case ever printed in about 2.5 minutes using the internet. How are you going to research case law about employment contracts from home without the internet?

Go read the article. It covers all this.

It's not the internet - it's morons (4, Insightful)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | more than 5 years ago | (#27240819)

The internet just makes it easier and faster for morons to display their stupid. In the old days, that same jackass who just had to twitter about the trial he's on would have been knocking back beer in a local bar and going on about the trial.

Re:It's not the internet - it's morons (3, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#27240857)

That was my thought as well. How do you blame technology for some jackass failing to take his civic responsibility seriously?

Re:It's not the internet - it's morons (4, Funny)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 5 years ago | (#27240879)

How do you blame technology for some jackass failing to take his civic responsibility seriously?

With technology, he's a more efficient jackass.

Re:It's not the internet - it's morons (1)

rpjs (126615) | more than 5 years ago | (#27240967)

With technology, he's a more efficient jackass.

And easier to catch out, so perhaps this is an improvement.

Re:It's not the internet - it's morons (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241237)

The internet just makes it easier and faster for morons to display they're stupid.

You sure got that one right!

Re:It's not the internet - it's morons (4, Funny)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241595)

No, actually, what I meant was "their stupid."

I didn't want to say that the internet makes it easier for them "to display that they are stupid" which is the paraphrase for your "correction." I was using "their stupid" as a replacement for "their stupidity." I'm making use of a language in a slightly non-standard way, as a conscious decision.

Thanks, though.

Re:It's not the internet - it's morons (2, Funny)

tompeach (1118811) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241557)

The internet just makes it easier and faster for morons to display their stupid.

Their what?

Re:It's not the internet - it's morons (1)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241675)

Their stupid. I deliberately used a non-standard nominalization of "stupid" in this instance.

Kind of like "teh stupid! it burns," or other similar phrasing you could find out there on the intertubes.

Re:It's not the internet - it's morons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241929)

so now you could but on your resume tried to create a meme, epic fail?

Re:It's not the internet - it's morons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241715)

The internet just makes it easier and faster for morons to display their stupid.

Their what?

"Their", stupid!

Re:It's not the internet - it's morons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241855)

The internet just makes it easier and faster for morons to display their stupid.

Exactly.

Solution (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27240873)

allow informational sites and searches to be counted as admissable

Re:Solution (2, Interesting)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#27240957)

allow informational sites and searches to be counted as admissable

That's a great idea! So, the next time I stand accused of murder, I'll simply edit my Wikipedia page to say "Shakrai did not commit this crime" and rest easy in the knowledge that my acquittal will follow soon thereafter. Think of all the money I can save on defense attorneys now ;)

Re:Solution (2, Funny)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241481)

And 20 minutes later some other jackass will edit it to read "Shakrai did not commit this crime. He did however murder and molest (in that order) 20 children."

Re:Solution (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241545)

I'll simply edit my Wikipedia page to say "Shakrai did not commit this crime"

[citation needed]

Re:Solution (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241649)

I know you're joking, but I'm confused by the wording of the AC you're replying to. 'Admissable' in this context usually implies 'Admissable as evidence'.

1) I fail to see how making those searches admissable would solve anything.
2) Information sites and searches are already counted as admissable, but not in the way you think: someone recently convicted of murder in Florida got busted by searching for "how to poison someone" or something like that. The wording of the search and results exactly matched the method the killer used in the murder.

Re:Solution (1)

SaDan (81097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241475)

That's the job of the prosecutor and defendant. They gather the info to make the case.

Just bar access. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#27240875)

It's easy to do, and easy to explain. There really should not be any problem here. If it is pissing off judges, then those judges did not explain the rules properly.

Re:Just bar access. (1)

danwesnor (896499) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241359)

You're going on the assumption that everybody always follows the rules. If they did, we wouldn't need judges or juries (at least for criminal cases).

Re:Just bar access. (1)

SaDan (81097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241449)

The last time I was part of a jury, we were required to give up cell phones and PDAs while we were in trial and deliberating. We got our phones back when we went on lunch break and after we were dismissed for the day

Honestly, it made sense. Nothing outside the courtroom should influence your decision in court.

Internet Minstrals on the Rise? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27240901)

...or so I thought.

can't fight this, just control it (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 5 years ago | (#27240913)

It's not going to be possible to fight this, instead the system should attempt at controlling this by allowing information to the jury but in a way, that is controlled.

So you want to see Google Maps? Well, that's great, but how do you know when the pictures where taken that you are looking at? You don't know, so understand that what is on the picture you are looking at can be totally different from what is the reality right now.

So the controlling feature would be to confirm the date and time, when this particular Google Map picture was taken. Jury should be controlled in this way: it should be explained to them, that information on the internet is not completely reliable (sometimes it is completely unreliable), that 'facts' on the internet are just words/pictures/sounds/videos of something that could have been changed by chance or doctored on purpose.

Basically it should be allowed for the jury to see the information but with a caveat, that this information is only a hearsay.

Re:can't fight this, just control it (1)

NeoSkandranon (515696) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241077)

Won't work. If they are even allowed to see it, it will color judgment.

Some jurors may even "decide" that the internet available info "seems right to them" as opposed to admitted evidence.

Re:can't fight this, just control it (1)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241553)

I don't think any of this is new. The difference is that technology makes it a lot easier to notice. Any outside information on a trial not presented in court will influence the jury in some way, some more extreme than others. I think the only real way to combat this is to impose stiff fines on jurors who cause a mistrial by blatantly ignoring the court order to no access this information during the trial.

A Jury Of Our Peers (2, Insightful)

aquatone282 (905179) | more than 5 years ago | (#27240921)

God help us all.

Re:A Jury Of Our Peers (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241009)

I dunno. Jury of our peers > the alternatives.

Re:A Jury Of Our Peers (1)

Rog-Mahal (1164607) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241373)

Hmm, so instead of peers we could have: Jury of our seeds, Jury of our leechers, Jury of our users, or worst of all, Jury of our superusers. Cue XKCD joke "sudo make me a sandwich".

Re:A Jury Of Our Peers (1)

xaositects (786749) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241711)

Hmm, so instead of peers we could have: Jury of our seeds, Jury of our leechers, Jury of our users, or worst of all, Jury of our superusers. Cue XKCD joke "sudo make me a sandwich".

or this XKCD comic [xkcd.com] .

Re:A Jury Of Our Peers (1)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241641)

A jury of our peers has one of three possible outcomes today.
1. Shield from a judge's political agenda. 2. Hanging from an unreasonable outraged mob (common when accused of a crime against a child)
3. In highly rare cases of jury rebellion, jury nullification.

Re:A Jury Of Our Peers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241725)

[citation needed]

Re:A Jury Of Our Peers (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241769)

Sometimes, thats not quite true - one of the big problems we are having with the British Parliamentary system at the moment is the House of Commons (the elected part) pushing through draconian, far reaching legislation which most of the population is against, and the House of Lords (the unelected part) rightfully shooting that legislation down.

Does it count as irony when the people you depend on in a democratic country were not picked democratically?

Re:A Jury Of Our Peers (2, Interesting)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241393)

Depends on the venue. It would make sense that you'd want to be tried in the most liberal venue you can get.

Remember John Allan Muhammad [wikipedia.org] and Lee Boyd Malvo? Choice quote from the Wikipedia:

...the primary reason for extraditing the two suspects from Maryland...to Virginia, was the differences in how the two states deal with the death penalty. While the death penalty is allowed in Maryland, it is only applied to persons who were adults at the time of their crimes, whereas Virginia had also allowed the death penalty for offenders who had been juveniles when their crimes were committed.

But yeah, if most of my peers watched American Idol and Rush Limbaugh I'd be shittin' bricks too.

Re:A Jury Of Our Peers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241479)

MY peers are pretty smart. Most of the population are not my peers. In anything.

Hmm... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241003)

While I don't think that the rules of evidence are beyond reproach(in particular, I've always found it weird that jurors can't ask questions), having people knocking around on the internet during the trial seems like an abjectly terrible idea.

With all the techniques and technologies developed for things like search engine optimization, various flavors of astroturfing, and the like, it would be pretty trivial to "seed" the internet with information calculated to specifically influence a jury one way or the other. Having to deal with parties being either crucified or beatified by the press is bad enough, having "objective" information being fed directly to the jurors by interested parties would be even worse.

It would be nice if there were a mechanism for jurors to request, and obtain, information they believe to be relevant("We are deciding a traffic case, could we get a street map and some pictures of the area in the jury room"); but hitting wikipedia on your phone isn't it.

Re:Hmm... (1)

Ares (5306) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241377)

imho, its not so weird that jurors can't ask questions (on trial juries at least; grand juries are different beasts altogether). in a criminal trial the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. if i as a juror had questions by the time deliberations came around, that's a huge red flag to me that the prosecutor didn't prove his case, and instilled reasonable doubt in me.

Re:Hmm... (2, Insightful)

dexmachina (1341273) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241547)

It would be nice if there were a mechanism for jurors to request, and obtain, information they believe to be relevant("We are deciding a traffic case, could we get a street map and some pictures of the area in the jury room"); but hitting wikipedia on your phone isn't it.

Even that wouldn't fly. If there was information to be gained that could influence the jurors' judment, then the defense or prosecution should have presented them during the case. The idea of "admissible evidence" is extremely important, and prevents all kinds of abuses that would otherwise occur. So, the jury gets what the judge says they can have, and what the lawyers think is pertinent to their case. Jurors aren't investigators. It isn't their job to actively try to "find the facts", regardless of whether or not the information has been vetted first. They listen, and decide.

That's the fundamental problem here, and that's why I think all the people saying things like "the courts just need to get with the times" are wrong (I know you said you're against the whole internet P.I. thing, I'm just segueing now). I really don't believe this is case of old ways of doing things that have to catch up with modern technology. This is no different then the practice of sequestering in high profile cases where access to the media could influence a juror. The only difference is that, because of the scope of the internet, a trial or a defendent doesn't have to be famous in order to get information with it. If anything, I think the old rules need to be made more rigorous now that it's so much easier for outside influence to affect a juror.

Re:Hmm... (2, Interesting)

Quothz (683368) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241601)

While I don't think that the rules of evidence are beyond reproach(in particular, I've always found it weird that jurors can't ask questions)

In some states, jurors can ask questions, in writing, through the judge. Whether the questions are posed to witnesses is at the judge's discretion. (Naturally, in any state jurors may ask the judge questions to clarify their instructions, but that's not what you meant.)

Re:Hmm... (2, Informative)

spinninggears (551247) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241655)

Well, actually jurors can ask questions. I have done it, and it changed the course of the trial. The judge does not have to allow the question though, and in my case, a stern lecture was administered.

Sooo? (1)

Uchiha (811374) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241011)

This is only a problem if they look up OJ SIMPSON and use guiltyguiltyguilty.com as there reference.

How is using the net any different than reading a newspaper or hearing people talk about it in the subway. They're suppose to pick a juror based on his unbiased disposition, not his tech ability.

So change the rules (1)

interiot (50685) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241037)

They are required to reach a verdict based on only the facts the judge has decided are admissible, and they are not supposed to see evidence that has been excluded as prejudicial. ... the rules of evidence, developed over hundreds of years of jurisprudence, are there to ensure that the facts that go before a jury have been subjected to scrutiny and challenge from both sides

Honestly, this is another "information wants to be free" issue. I can understand asking jurors to not Google about the specific people involved in the case, but to prevent them from looking up general information is absurd. If I was in a jury, I'd be very interested in the relevant case law.

It's the age of the Internet, you can't block people off from information any longer.

Re:So change the rules (3, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241273)

If I was in a jury, I'd be very interested in the relevant case law.

The problem is that as a member of the jury it isn't your job to look at the case law. You are supposed to be a finder of fact, i.e: did the defendant commit this act. It's up to the judge to review the case law and if he does a piss-poor job of it then the defendant has grounds for appeal.

you can't block people off from information any longer.

Actually if they wanted to they could [ajs.org] .

Re:So change the rules (1)

SaDan (81097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241395)

The problem is you, the typical juror, are not a lawyer.

It's one thing to have access to information, and another to be able to apply that information correctly.

Re:So change the rules (1)

Thiez (1281866) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241871)

Are you suggesting information about the law be kept from jurors, lest they misapply it?

Re:So change the rules (2, Interesting)

N3Roaster (888781) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241433)

If I was in a jury, I'd be very interested in the relevant case law.

Last time I was on a jury, we got a printout of that information. I don't know if that's normal or not, but it was certainly useful.

Re:So change the rules (2)

davmoo (63521) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241507)

I'd be very interested in the relevant case law

You can be interested all you want. But you cannot base your verdict on what you think about case law. All you are allowed to base a verdict on is the information presented in the courtroom.

As for blocking people off from "information" while on jury duty, the threat of a few days in jail if caught will take care of that.

All parties in a court action, whether it be civil or criminal, deserve a fair, impartial, and unbiased jury. Were it you in the courtroom I'm sure you'd demand no less for yourself. And I'd also be willing to bet that were I serving on your jury, you'd prefer I not get my information about you and your case from Wikipedia.

Re:So change the rules (1)

KenSeymour (81018) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241555)

If you were a juror, you would be expressly told by the judge NOT to do your own research.

There is nothing wrong with looking stuff up after the trial is over.

Can you imagine a jury room with 12 people all saying "Well according to MY research . . ."

Re:So change the rules (1)

dexmachina (1341273) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241645)

The problem is it's a very fuzzy line between what's general enough, and what's to specific to the case at hand. If there there was relevant case law that could influence the jurors one way or another, it should have been presented during the case. It's not their job to search out helpful little tidbits. And from a purely practical standpoint, if you allow jurors internet access but say they can only access certain kinds of information, cases would become endlessly bogged down with calls for a mistrial as lawyers try to argue why such-and-such bit of info that was obtained by juror x hit a little too close to home.

Re:So change the rules (4, Insightful)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241765)

Honestly, this is another "information wants to be free" issue. I can understand asking jurors to not Google about the specific people involved in the case, but to prevent them from looking up general information is absurd. If I was in a jury, I'd be very interested in the relevant case law.

The jury isn't the trier of law, that's the judge's job. The jury is the trier of fact. Any application of case law independently by a juror, wherever they derived the knowledge and however correct it is, would be misconduct. The jury is to determine the facts, not to apply their own understanding of the law. This is important, because the judge articulates and applies the law, and that articulation is subject to review on appeal. A silent, unexplained application of law by a juror (and, a fortiori, multiple of them by different jurors) cannot be effectively reviewed on appeal because no one knows what it is. The deference given to the juries decision on points of fact (it being overruled on appeal only if the evidence could not reasonably support the conclusion found) is entirely dependent on the premise that the jury is just following the instructions they are given and determining the facts in accordance with those.

That's not to say the rules couldn't be changed, but these aren't just peripheral rules -- to change the rules on what jurors can do upends a lot of the fundamental principles of the jury system. (And that's only dealing with the aspect of the trier of fact vs. trier of law role; then there is the whole question of how they perform the role of trier of fact, and the issue of excluded evidence, which often directly involves the Constitutional rights of the people in court, and Constitutional limits on powers of government.

It's the age of the Internet, you can't block people off from information any longer.

To an extent, the rise in mistrials is a result of it being easier to detect the kinds of violations that people engage in. It's a lot easier for a party to a case to find out and bring to a judge's attention juror misconduct that consists of or is announced in internet postings than when its just talked about around a watercooler.

Re:So change the rules (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241807)

The problem with this is that there is information that is NOT allowed to be used by the jury to make a decision. Some of that information is evidence that was improperly obtained (e.g., no search warrant), some of it is information that is deemed prejudicial (e.g., previously charged with a crime). This is information that it has been decided by the legal system over the years would interfere with the defendant receiving a fair trial.

I think... (2, Insightful)

JustShootMe (122551) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241055)

This is exposing a systemic problem with the court system. The whole thing is dependent on juries knowing exactly what the lawyers for both sides, and the judge, want them to know, and no more. But there's no real way to enforce that, and there never has been.

It is in the interest of both lawyers to have the most ignorant, moldable, and frankly stupid, set of jurors that they can possibly find. Which I guess makes sense because that's certainly "peers" of most criminals...

That's not to say I would go out and look for information in contravention of a judge's instructions (I have jury duty next week and it'd be stupid not to make that clear) but that doesn't mean I think the rules themselves aren't kind of unreasonable. Last I checked I was still allowed an opinion.

Sorry if this comment's a bit disjointed, it's 7:30 AM and I haven't had my shower yet ;)

Re:I think... (1)

illegalcortex (1007791) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241901)

I have to chime in on this one. To paraphrase Churchill, trial by a jury of your peers is the worst form of justice except all the others that have been tried.

So... (1)

thered2001 (1257950) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241091)

...an educated jury is a havoc-wreaking one? How is this any different than going to a library and looking up info after court? (Other than 'instant' is easier and that the Interweb is full of lies and damned lies.)

Re:So... (2, Insightful)

Domint (1111399) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241285)

the Interweb is full of lies and damned lies.

So is the Library. I don't see why I should put any more faith in the written words of an anonymous stranger simply because it is on paper rather than on my screen. Books can be (and often are) just as biased or distorted as anything found on the 'Interweb'.

Re:So... (3, Insightful)

abigsmurf (919188) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241299)

Because people are not experts on a subject matter.

It's like self diagnosis. If you look up your symptoms you could find that you have a mild cold, You could also discover that you 'have' any number of exotic deadly diseases. It takes a trained doctor to be able to ask the right quests and examine you and narrow it down to the most likely disease.

Lawyers and judges are skilled at knowing what is and isn't relevant to a case, at knowing how to get vital information from an expert. If you've looked up information that has been left out of a case, there may be a reason it's been left out. The defence might have chosen to leave out a piece of evidence you think would prove innocence deliberately because it carries unforeseen implications.

If you look at someone accused of murder and look up that he has previous convictions for violent assault, that would make it seem more likely he was a murderer. However a judge may view that the assault charges were simple drunken brawls but the murder was planned, cold and calculated. The drunken brawls aren't related enough to the present case to justify the impact they'd have on the jury.

Good for them for doing some research (0)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241097)

The character of the defendant and plaintiff do count. If you've ever been falsely accused of a serious crime out of sheer malice like I have, you become a lot less sympathetic to the victims of crimes until it's proved beyond a reasonable doubt that justice was served.

I applaud jurors who try to figure out what kind of person they're trying. For example, if a juror finds out that a woman claiming she was raped had filed false charges in the past, the juror has a moral duty to vote to nullify the trial on moral character grounds unless this time she has firm evidence like wounds indicative of a violent rape.

Re:Good for them for doing some research (1)

SaDan (81097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241321)

This is completely the wrong line of thinking. In your example, the woman is on trial for the one instance she claimed she was raped. She is not on trial for the previous claims, and they are irrelevant to the case unless the court thinks otherwise.

Here's an example based on your line of thinking that would not work out for the best: A person is accused of murder. They have previously been accused of murder in the past, but had all cases dropped for some reason or another. The person actually committed a murder this time. Would you rather have the jury decide this person's fate based on the previous cases that had been dropped, or look at the facts presented for the latest case?

Re:Good for them for doing some research (1)

GeigerBC (1056332) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241775)

I'm not sure that's the best analogy, although I'm sure mine is not much better. With yours generally somebody ELSE is accusing them of murder. GP's claim is one that is filed by the person, in their example rape. Perhaps a better version is "A person is accused of murder. They have previously been GUILTY of murder in the past, but in this case the person actually did NOT commit a murder this time." Is the jury likely to know this? I'm guessing it gets brought up in court. Just like I think prior accusations of rape should be. Note: I've seen how destructive accusations of rape can be to somebody, even if acquitted in the end. Yes, the accuser had a history of accusations.

Re:Good for them for doing some research (2, Insightful)

abigsmurf (919188) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241551)

Your argument is perhaps better for suggesting that the burden of evidence to mount a prosecution should be higher for criminal charges.

There are lots of people who cry wolf, but there is also the occasional boy who cries wolf and ends up getting eaten. You could say he deserved to be eaten but that would still leave you with a wolf roaming around that now has a taste for human meat...

Metaphors aside, it's up the lawyers and ultimately the judge on how relevant someone's history is to a trial and if their history would unduly sway the jury. Scumbags are often innocent, habitual liars are occasionally telling the truth. It should be up to the people well versed in the law and trials to weigh up the balance.

Allow Juriors to ask questions (1)

jbolden (176878) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241099)

One of the things that was experimented with about a decade ago was allowing jurors to ask questions. This would apply to both witnesses and council. The reason jurors are looking things up is because they have unanswered questions about the case. Get them an official answer.

http://www.sptimes.com/2008/01/04/State/Change_lets_jurors_su.shtml [sptimes.com]

Re:Allow Juriors to ask questions (1)

SaDan (81097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241353)

Jurors can ask questions when they are deliberating. The questions are written down, and given to the judge. The judge then gives you an official answer.

I didn't get how that was supposed to work (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241139)

They say it's supposed to be a jury of your peers, but then they say that the Judge should have absolute control over the information the Jury can consider when reaching it's verdict. That kind of defeats the point, right? What makes a judge so smart he can decide to withhold information and outside consultation from Jurors, when we normally would have that available to us when making decisions in real life.

I know that there's a concern an outside party may try to manipulate the outcome of the trial (by threatening jurors or deliberately planting misinformation) but it seems to me that this is how our court system works anyway (with the party best able to game the system and manipulate the jury winning out). And such jury tampering could just as easily be prevented by monitoring communications and arresting people who are trying to manipulate the outcome for personal gain.

Re:I didn't get how that was supposed to work (3, Insightful)

ChromaticDragon (1034458) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241599)

I imagine one thing that makes the judge qualified to judge what evidence is permissible is a better understanding of the issues (and case law and history) related to things like the 4th amendment.

It may be a "fact" that drugs were found in the defendant's car. This "fact" may be deemed inadmissible if 4th amendment rights were violated. It is possible that despite this the defendant was indeed guilty. But it is also possible corrupt cops planted the "evidence".

I imagine there are a slew of things like this. So although I would chafe under restrictions preventing me from doing basic research to better understand things related to a particular case, there's no need to disrespect a judge's role here.

Re:I didn't get how that was supposed to work (3, Insightful)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241623)

They say it's supposed to be a jury of your peers, but then they say that the Judge should have absolute control over the information the Jury can consider when reaching it's verdict. That kind of defeats the point, right?

A jury of your peers is a jury of people like you and not, say, a group appointed by the government, or only rich people, or just the judge.

What makes a judge so smart he can decide to withhold information and outside consultation from Jurors, when we normally would have that available to us when making decisions in real life.

That is part of his job. There are facts that would sway the jury via emotion that should not be considered in the case at hand.

The judge has control over the information available to the jury because the jury is only supposed to consider the information that is relevant to the case. Outside information may prejudice the jury against one party or the other. Consider a case where one party has convictions for a different kind of crime many years ago, say marijuana possession. The person is arrested for petty theft. Should convictions for possession be admissible in the current case? That is what the judge decides.

How about a case where a woman is charged with a crime and in the past lost her children to Child Protective Services. Should the fact that her children are in foster care be considered in her current case?

How about a case against someone many believe killed two people and was acquitted? Should that case be introduced? It could cause members of the jury to vote guilty, not for the allegation in the case, but rather for the case he has already been acquitted of.

And such jury tampering could just as easily be prevented by monitoring communications and arresting people who are trying to manipulate the outcome for personal gain.

Who is going to monitor, for how long, and how? And, what exactly is personal gain? What if someone does it to send the defendant to jail because he does not like the defendant? Or, the defendant's wife? Or, tries to get the defendant off for similar reasons? What if one wants to just tarnish the record of one of the attorneys?

One thing to keep in mind is that most people are terrible at determining what is relevant to making a decision and, as a result, make bad decisions.

I've done jury duty. (5, Insightful)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241193)

I carried my mobile phone all the time, and used it in the common area to talk to my girlfriend, check my email etc.

I had access to the internet through a wireless hotspot, and I read /. and The Register, NotAlwaysRight.com and other chod websites, and chatted with some other jurours.

I was told that the case had to be decided upon by the edivence heard in court, and that I wasn't to discuss the case outside of the court room or deliberation room. So I didn't. It was that simple.

It's not a question of the rules needing to be changed, it's the need for people to follow them. If they don't, they tarnish the legal process and the people will lose faith. Trial by Jury will become Trial by Media, and we all know that they are TOTALLY unbias.

As usual, this is an education problem, not a rule problem. As IT folk, you should know that the answer is almsot always "educate the user" not "restrict the user".

Double-Edged Sword (2, Insightful)

bratwiz (635601) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241249)

This can cut both ways. Yes a juror can look up stuff on the Internet and find out things that the judge has not ruled admissible. But on the other hands, judges aren't infallible even if they're honest, sometimes they make mistakes, don't understand things well enough themselves to make a truly informed assessment of potential facts, or in the worst scenarios are lazy, biased or even crooked. So being able to look something up on the Internet could as potentially reveal exculpatory information. Supposedly the legal system is there to "find the truth" but that's really not the case. Its there to find the most probable truth, or in some cases the most convenient truth. And often times nobody really cares what actually happened or who's going to jail. Look at how many cases have been overturned due to DNA evidence. How many innocent people have sat in jail for years and years because the judge or jury or "legal system" in general has refused to review all the evidence, or when new evidence comes to light, review a past conviction. Its darned inconvenient when guilty people turn out later to not be guilty and some prosecutor or judge has to account for the situation. Easier to just stonewall and let the innocent rot.

Re:Double-Edged Sword (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241403)

It may be a double-edge sword, but said sword is in desperate need of sharpening.

So.. you're telling me that by reading /. (4, Funny)

DirtyUncleRon69 (1492865) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241263)

I can get out of jury duty?

Re:So.. you're telling me that by reading /. (3, Funny)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241337)

Only if you were sitting on a jury judging a RIAA trial or Hans Reiser ;)

GOOD, the system is wrong anyway! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241367)

GOOD!!

Don't be fooled by the "shame on you" spin of this story, the fact is that allowing judges to decide what is and isn't admitted into evidence is UNCONSTITUTIONAL. They just don't want you to know that.

You see, our system actually practices and enforces Admiralty Law, the law of ships at sea, not Civilian law as it should be. The Constitution says that judges are not SUPPOSED to decide what evidence is heard, only decide guilt or innocence of the accused.

The ability of Judges to cherry-pick which "truth" gets heard in trials is 100% due to the military-style justice system we have had imposed on us since the late 1800's, when the US Civil Flag stopped being flown over statehouses. Old Glory is our flag too, but it's the Battle Flag of our Republic, and it stands for military rule.

Read up on the subject (Google "US Civil Flag"), and you'll never see the inside of a courtroom the same way again.

I, for one, welcome this measure of TRUE freedom-spreading and the Internet-enabled Truth Overlords it empowers.

Re:GOOD, the system is wrong anyway! (0, Troll)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241429)

I think you need to re-read the parts of the constitution you are refering to, preferanbly without the anti-judge prejudice you so clearly have. Did a judge rape you or something?

Can you blame them? (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241459)

I know at this point we're all supposed to get in our high horses and preach about civil duty, but I think too many people have seen too many trials where what happens in the courtroom is just flat out broken. In the face of lawyers playing their highly honed bullshit games, and an army of "experts" who can be paid to say anything, and the befuddled contradictions of witnesses of a dubious nature, the urge to seek out more information must arise quite readily.

But, no, we'll just thump our bibles and pretend the system isn't completely hosed.

Challenging authority (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27241493)

Maybe what needs to be looked at is the practice of withholding evidence from the jury that is to decide a case. As we become a more information based society the legal system can't expect to be the sole arbiter of information coming to a juror.

Twelve Angry Men (1)

Edward Nardella (1503565) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241503)

And the entire internet!

Re:Twelve Angry Men (1)

Arslan ibn Da'ud (636514) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241799)

Mr. Keene said jurors might think they were helping, not hurting, by digging deeper. âoeThere are people who feel they canâ(TM)t serve justice if they donâ(TM)t find the answers to certain questions,â he said.

I was just about to bring this up. The whole point of 12 Angry Men was a jury that did their own research (all alone in the deliberation room) and came up with the 'right' verdict. Which they would never have done based only on the 'evidence' presented at the trial. I'd sure like to see how that story would turn out if the jury had had internet access.

So there may be centuries of precedent preventing jurors from conducting their own research, but 12 Angry Men is 'precedent' for the contrary strategy.

Contempt (2, Insightful)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241631)

Liberal application of 30 or 90 day contempt charges would fix this pretty quickly.

common knowledge (1)

RichMan (8097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241689)

Common knowledge has always been allowed and accepted as background. The law just has to catch up to the fact that the contents of the internet, right or wrong, form the background of common knowledge.

Also note that before the internet common knowledge was probably just as likely to be right or wrong.

- does a witch float?

The Internet will save our judicial system. (5, Informative)

spinninggears (551247) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241847)

Having served on several juries, a number of misconceptions need to be cleared up: You can ask questions. The judge may not like it, but if you submit it properly, do not discuss it with fellow jurors, it might be allowed. The right question can completely screw things up for the prosecution or defense, so you will not be thanked. Juries violate all sorts of instructions all the time, and outside info is part of the game. Getting outside information puts pressure on the legal system to do things right, and they don't like that. I do not recommend causing a mistrial, but at the same time, a juror cannot be expected to remove their brain will serving. During one trial that I was a juror for, the prosecution put on a police officer who stated something that was patently not true. The freeware public defender did not challenge it. I was faced with a dilemma -- quickly verify my correct knowledge (just in case I remembered wrong) or go with the police testimony, and convict an innocent man.

Don't forget to include some judges in this (2, Informative)

MillenneumMan (932804) | more than 5 years ago | (#27241885)

The overwhelming majority of judges, like the majority of jurors, are savvy enough to understand and deal properly with the ramifications of the information age and how it can impact legal proceedings. But, like some jurors, there are some judges who have not adapted to the information age and fail to control the juries or the attorneys in the cases they hear. Judge Ito was completely ill-equipped to handle the television and celebrity angle of the O.J. criminal trial, so it is no surprise that some judges today are struggling to comprehend and deal with Twitter, Facebook, Google, iPhones, Blackberries, and so forth.

I am not so sure that all of this is a bad thing. I now perceive, for good or for bad, that criminal defense lawyers often have no trouble crossing the line from "guarantee this defendant a fair trial" to "set this defendant free no matter the cost". Yes, I want an aggressive lawyer defending me if I go to trial, but I also want ethical lawyers debating the case before an ethical and informed judge. And if those parties can't be ethical, then I surely hope the jury is smart enough to see the truth and decide accordingly.

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