Jury Can't Google

from the can't-touch-the-internet dept

Apparently a rape conviction has been overturned and a retrial ordered after a member of the jury used the internet to research the crime of rape. That juror apparently printed out the documents and brought them into the jury room as well. This gets increasingly tricky in an information age, when doing additional research has become like second nature to many people. For some people, it’s probably almost impossible not to call up Google and do some extra research if they’re asked to make a difficult decision, such as deciding someone’s fate as a juror. The problem, of course, is that the defendant’s lawyers have no chance to see what the jurors are reading or to rebut the claims they make. However, in an age where Google seems like an extension of the brain for many people, this sort of issue is going to come up more and more often.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Jury Can't Google”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
precision blogger (user link) says:

juror doing own crime research

This is no worse than the challenge a local jury faces when the crime scene is, perhaps an intersection only a few miles away.

The judge always warns jurors very carefully not to do their own research.

Jurors usually understand they should not discuss the case with intimates, should avoid newspaper and radio stories, etc. This is just one more OBVIOUS thing not to do.

Since the juror brought his material to the other jurors, I’d like to see him sued for the state cost of the original trial.
– precision blogger

Chris Wuestefeld says:

Gray area or fuzzy thinking?

While it’s true that a juror is not supposed to discuss the case with outsiders, that’s not what happened here. The juror used background information on the topic.

No juror is a blank slate before he or she walks into the box. If the juror had read this material a few weeks before, and then in deliberation had recited it to the other jurors, there would be no issue at all. The problem only arose because the research happened after voir dire — the attorney’s chance to weed out inappropriate jurors, whatever that might mean.

Moreover, the Judge is incorrect in at least one matter. He’s quoted as saying, “the defendant in particular, but the public too, is entitled to know of the evidential material considered by the decision-making body”. This is wrong, as it’s utterly unenforceable given the privacy of jury deliberations (and indeed, the personal deliberation of each of the jurors in their own minds). There can be no way to know which aspects of evidence each individual juror chose to ignore, nor what implied evidence (e.g., the facial expressions of a witness) they did consider.

This is closely related to the concept of jury nullification, an issue of some debate lately (see FIJA, the Fully Informed Juror’s Association’s website). Judges routinely lie to jurors, instructing them that they must decide cases based solely on the law, regardless of their conscience and whether they believe that the law is wrong. This is incorrect, with a ton of case law to back that view.

Just as in the Nuremberg Decision, we each must answer finally to our own consciences. In civics classes we’re taught about checks and balances between the branches of government. The jury in a courtroom is the people’s final check against an unfair government: a juror can, in the final reckoning, effectively veto a bad law.

I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Precision Blogger (user link) says:

Re: Gray area or fuzzy thinking?

I believe you are incorrect. Jurors come into a case with foreknowledge, but they swear (and convince the lawyers) that they will be able to judge the case fairly. That takes care of the knowledge jurors come in with. I’ve been a juror, and I can assure you that many, perhaps most people err on the side of deciding that they cannot be fair when asked about this.

During the case, an enormous legal apparatus tries to achieve fairness by determining what evidence can be placed before the jurors.

Jurors who go out on their own to gather evidence or look at arguments are defeating one of the essential means to provide a fair trial. That’s why they are clearly told not to do it.

It would be the exception – not a normal situation – where I, a juror, decided that justice was apparently so perverted that I had an obligation to break the system and gather evidence on my own. In doing so I would be obeying a high ethical standard, but also I would know I was breaking the laws of my own country, and expect to go to jail. Again, this would be AN EXCEPTIONAL CASE. In the USA, the only likely situation I can think of is a juror in a first degree murder case who can plainly see that a defendant is being railroaded and has no decent legal support.
– the Precision Blogger

Chris Wuestefeld says:

Re: Re: Evidence or background

As you re-phrase the argument, you would be correct. But the original story does not accuse the juror of getting additional evidence. Rather, it was simply background information.

Imagine that you were deciding a case on the liability for an auto accident (as I once did). I agree that it would be wrong to, say, go to newspaper accounts to find quotes from bystanders.

But what about looking up information on the history of the automobile, or maybe looking at an article describing the physics of Newtonian motion and conservation of momentum? I don’t see any problem there, and it seems to more closely parallel the case at hand.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...