Googling Juror Leads To Verdict Being Overturned

from the a-jury-of-disconnected-peers dept

We were just writing about courts requiring jurors to sign statements saying they would not Google details of cases they were hearing, and just like clockwork, we hear of a jury verdict that was overturned due to a Googling juror. The case is actually from a few years ago, and is only popping up now, because a higher court has said that the decision to overturn the jury verdict was reasonable. There was one other oddity in the case as well: the reason the juror Googled the information was because he was told ahead of time the names of parties involved in cases he might hear. Why? I have no clue… I would think that any court that does that would likely have a situation where almost everyone on the jury did at least a little searching and poking around.

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Comments on “Googling Juror Leads To Verdict Being Overturned”

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Griff (profile) says:

So what CAN I google ?

lets say I’m on jury service and I find out that we’re trying someone for some kind of crime I don’t really know much about. Lets say it is insider trading.

I would presumably be fulfilling my civic duty to have some idea what was going on and hence to read up on what insider trading is.
Maybe I would read about past cases, even study what the law says. This much is presumably a good thing for me to do.

But google being google, I’d be bound to end up seeing some mention of the current case.

In the UK things are often “sub judice” meaning that after charges are brought but before the trial they often cannot be reported on. The police know that by leaking to the papers they will get the bad guy off, so by and large it works.

But information wants to be free.

So presumably in the case we’re discussing, “jury selection” would have ruled out all but hermits who don’t read or watch the news ?

Kevin says:

Re: So what CAN I google ?

It actually isn’t a good thing for you to research the crime (in your example, insider trading) and read up on other cases, what the actual statutes say, etc. The reason being is that as a juror you do not make any judgements on matters of law. That’s for the lawyers and the court. Your sole job as a juror is to listen to the facts/testimony presented in court and determine guilt or innocence. The judge will give instructions as the the details of the law as applied in your case, and the judge will rule what evidence may be used in the case.

For example, lets say that when “reading up” on the case and the type of crime allegedly committed that you read about a key piece of evidence, but that the judge had ruled in pre-trial hearings that the evidence had been excluded. Could you reasonably be expected to ignore that key piece of evidence, without knowing that the judge had already ruled on it and why? Could you trust that the newspaper provided a fair analysis/interpretation of what the evidence indicated and not a biased spin? And what if while researching the crime of insider trading you end up getting bad or outdated information on what actually is a crime and what isn’t?

Ben says:

Standard Procedure?

When I served on a jury last year, we too were read a list of names of people possibly involved with the case. This was done during jury selection. The reason behind this is that they cannot have a member of the jury who knows somebody involved with the case. IIRC, it went something like “We are going to read you a list of people whom you may hear about during the course of this trial. If any names sound familiar, please raise your hand.” If anyone raised their hand, they would then question that potential juror to determine if the person that they knew was the person involved with the case. However, the first thing we were told after being sworn in as potential jurors, was that we were not to discuss research or read anything regarding the case. We were reminded of this repeatedly, including at the end of every day that we served.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: none of it makes any sense

You got it exactly opposite. Attorneys, both the prosecution and the defense, want to be sure that you are presented with the facts of the case, not opinions, innuendo, half-truths, and errors reported in other places. Just because something reported that “appears” to be a fact does not make it a fact. Plus, rarely is all the information available in a case released to the public, with the result that esteemed members of the press sometimes have a preconceived notion who is guilty – which may erroneous once all facts are available.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: none of it makes any sense

Yeah, but how many lawyers present facts? They present information twisted in such a way that it sounds like fact but makes their client look better than the other. When both are doing this it’s easy to get confused.

They want an ignorant jury so they can do this, so the jury doesn’t catch them in a bald faced lie.

been there says:

jury instructions

Yes, they give a list of names during selection (not before) so you can be eliminated as a juror if you know someone.

As far as knowledge. THEY (well actually the Judge) wants to be the only person who provides you with any knowledge about anything you will use to make a decision. I was a juror on a money laundering case. Actually, I was the foreman. During deliberation I asked for a legal dictionary (don’t recall what I wanted to look up. This was met with the jury coming back into the courtroom in front of the Judge and both lawyers. I described the terms we were having disagreements as to the meaning. They had the jury go back into the deliberation room. Three hours later sent in a piece of paper with the definitions stated the way the two lawyers and the Judge felt they should be stated.

When you are a Juror you are really treated like a mushroom. There is testimony you are not permitted to hear. There is evidence you are not permitted to see. There is information you are not permitted to have. There is knowledge they do not want you to posses. Often the judge is required to leave out information by statute (in my case, if found guilty there would be a forfeiture hearing that the jurors would attend).

A “knowledgable” or “well prepared” juror is a bad thing in the eyes of the courts and the lawyers.

Bri (profile) says:

Absurdities of the Justice System

Once again, this perfectly illustrates why the justice system is horribly horribly flawed. There is a presumption of non-biased judgment, hence the need to shield jurors from outside information. However, the entire concept of non-biased judgment doesn’t exist and can never exist as long as humans are judging other humans. So instead of pretending that non-biased judgments can proceed in the courtroom, revise the system to appropriately deal with natural bias.

Vidiot says:

And it's standard in IP cases, too

And to bring the story around to patent and IP cases…

Since patent judges are (potentially) dealing with salt-of-the-earth, average-Joe jurors, there’s no assumption that a jury will understand the technology behind the case. Not only are patent juries presented with the text of the patent’s “claims”, or descriptive features, but they have the claims “construed” for them by the judge, based on input – haggling, actually – from both parties in the case. For instance, one claim might reference “… a means whereby a rotary actuator engages a latching mechanism…”, and the judge may say, “That means this little motor here, not that one over there.”

Cumbersome and oblique, yes, but claim construction is probably necessary, in the same sense that criminal juries need sworn police testimony rather than hearsay and self-formed opinions based on a two-inch article in the local Daily Bugle.

Jeremy says:

As a juror you have to be given the names ahead of time so that it can be determined wether you have any connection to any of the parties involved. It is the jurors responsibility and civic duty to follow the instructions given by the court. The trust given the juror is a beautiful thing and part of what makes our legal system one of the best in the world.

Chad says:

Not allowed to learn the truth

The information he gathered was in regards to some kind of seatbelt manufacturer (as far as I can understand), and as a result of the research the juror did, they were able to gather different opinions based on fact rather than the twisted words of a lawyer in the courtroom. I fully support actually doing research for trials, and I only wish that some trials had actual research involved rather than it always coming down to a case of “we-say-they-say”.

The only problem with Google results is that the evidence you gather is entirely dependent on the sources around the internet, which we all know is always 100% factual right? uh…. Ok maybe not. It can’t be worse than the crap lawyers come up with though. Chances are the lawyers just Google their case these days anyway.

Research should be done, the juror had the right idea (in my opinion) about researching the company or product in question as opposed to listening exclusively the defense or prosecution lawyers… but unfortunately he used means that should not be considered factual. Why is it less factual than what the lawyers are paid to tell the jury? That much I can’t even speculate on.

jjmsan (profile) says:

So the argument is that the jurors will find the “facts” on the internet, but will be unable to tell if they are being told the “facts” in the court because they are “stupid”. As for the OJ trial. The police lost control of the evidence. They did not show they kept it in there possession the entire time so they could not prove no tampering had been done. In a criminal trial the decision is supposed to be beyond a reasonable doubt. This is because we don’t like executing innocent people. If you don’t like jury trails you can always ask for a bench trail only.

Janis says:

It’s not unreasonable — they want to make sure that ALL the jurors are making their decisions based on the same evidence. Besides, facts and accuracy is the job of the judge and the witnesses — the jurors are there to make their decisions based on the facts as presented in the courtroom.

And I’m not sure I’d want any jurors in a case where I’m a defendant to be making decisions where three of them went to Wikipedia and five more found something in the back page of a magazine that seemed relevant. To keep from losing control over the situation, they need to make sure jurors all have the same exposure to the same pool of information, and that none of them think that because they read something on a webpage someplace that that qualifies them to be a backseat driver to the judge or attorneys.

Janis says:

Also … what the attorneys want is not always what they get. The judges are the ones who want an untainted jury pool. Attorneys are not in charge in a courtroom.

There’s a division of responsibility in a courtroom — the JUDGE makes sure that all the procedures are followed and that no rules are broken, what we call justice.

The lawyers don’t care — they pursue conviction or acquittal. Period. It’s their JOB to present the facts in a way that makes the defendant look as good or as bad as possible. And the judges know that, and the jurors better know, and the rules are written to take it into account. That’s why judges will occasionally slap lawyers on the nose and call bullsh*t.

The jurors are the ones who balance what’s said in the courtroom and come up with a decision. In order to do this, they have to be exposed to the same common collection of information. Calling bullsh*t on the lawyers or playing NCIS isn’t their job.

This is just how a courtroom works. It’s not perfect, in fact it’s pretty off in a few places, but a huge part of justice is the pursuit of some form of consistency so personal biases don’t come into play. Jurors do their job, the lawyers do their jobs, and the judge does theirs, in a way that prevents them from stepping on one another’s toes as much as possible, or else you’d have chaos. Judgments being handed down in completely different fashions and according to individual whims and opinions in every case. How likely do you think justice would be in that situation?

NotFromToronto (profile) says:

Names Before Trial

I’m in Canada, and I’m not sure how closely our jury selection process is. But the one and only time I was called for Jury Duty, I was asked as a part of the initial screening if I knew certain people.

The list contained both the accused, as well as both alleged victims and witnesses.

I assumed this was a way to choose a Jury without conflict instead of having to ask about conflicts later in the process.

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