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Hans Reiser and the "Geek Defense" Strategy 738

Posted by kdawson
from the thinks-too-much dept.
lseltzer alerts us to a story in the Washington Post on the defense strategy in the Hans Reiser murder trial. "In the courtroom where Hans Reiser is on trial for murder, [the evidence] might appear to indicate guilty knowledge. But his attorneys cast it as evidence of an innocence peculiar to Hans, a computer programmer so immersed in the folds of his own intellect that he had no idea how complicit he was making himself appear. 'Being too intelligent can be a sort of curse,' defense counsel William Du Bois said. 'All this weird conduct can be explained by him, but he's the only one who can do it. People who are commonly known as computer geeks are so into the field.'"
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Hans Reiser and the "Geek Defense" Strategy

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  • Gem of a quote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 23, 2008 @07:42PM (#22530302)

    His signal adult achievement was ReiserFS, a file system he named for himself, unusual in the programming world. The system organizes data on Linux, the "open source" operating system.
    In the same breath, they say naming something after ones own name is unusual, and refer to the OS written by a guy named Linus. Hows that for irony.
  • Re:Gem of a quote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mccalli (323026) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @07:49PM (#22530346) Homepage
    In the same breath, they say naming something after ones own name is unusual, and refer to the OS written by a guy named Linus. Hows that for irony.

    Linus named it FreakOS I believe. It was someone else who convinced him to rename it to Linux.

    Cheers,
    Ian
  • by Omnifarious (11933) <eric-slash&omnifarious,org> on Saturday February 23, 2008 @07:54PM (#22530386) Homepage Journal

    It's not the Twinkie Defense. Hans is claiming he didn't murder her, not that some bizarre psychological condition associated with being a geek should mitigate his action in some way. The psychological aspect is used only to explain why he acted so strangely and why those strange actions are not indicative of guilt. Basically, it didn't even occur to him that those actions might be seen as acting guilty.

    From what I can tell, the prosecution has absolutely not proven Hans' guilt beyond the shadow of a doubt. They have not met the standard of proof required for a criminal conviction. All they have is some fairly flimsy circumstantial evidence.

    But that's a separate question from whether or not I think he's guilty. And given the available evidence I can't decide either way. This case just is too bizarre. I can actually believe that Nina has managed to escape back to Russia and finagled the courts through the rest of her family into letting her children go back too. But I can also believe that Hans murdered her. Both scenarios fit the available evidence.

  • by liquidpele (663430) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:04PM (#22530476) Journal
    I agree with this. I *could* design an implement my own filesystem if I thought it was really profitable, and I'm no genious. But I also wouldn't have gone to Russia for a mail-order type bride and let her get her citizenship after having some kids, or run my business into the ground while my Russian wife stole money because I was stupid enough to let her handle the finances and not double check things myself. Sure they guy is smart, but he's also very, very stupid from the stories I here.
  • by erlehmann (1045500) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:07PM (#22530490)

    Both scenarios fit the available evidence.
    In dubio, pro reo.
  • by tverbeek (457094) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:12PM (#22530518) Homepage
    Try reading the article you linked to.

    White's lawyers didn't claim that the Twinkies made him do it. They claimed that the Twinkies were proof that White (ordinarily a healthy eater) had gone off the tracks.
  • Re:Gem of a quote (Score:1, Insightful)

    by orasio (188021) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:24PM (#22530612) Homepage

    His signal adult achievement was ReiserFS, a file system he named for himself, unusual in the programming world. The system organizes data on Linux, the "open source" operating system.
    In the same breath, they say naming something after ones own name is unusual, and refer to the OS written by a guy named Linus. Hows that for irony.
    It's wrong to say "Linux" is an OS. It's understandable, though, it has been going on for more than 15 years.

    But then, you say that a guy names Linus wrote some OS.
    I'll explain again, kids. Linus Torvalds wrote a kernel, a crucial tool for making an OS.
    The resulting OS is GNU/Linux, and your confusion is the reason why calling the OS "Linux" is wrong, it gives credit to Linus, and the Linux project, for the work of GNU people. People say it doesn't matter, but it does matter, in free software, attribution is all.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:25PM (#22530618)

    The guy is into "death yoga," serious BDSM and confessed to killing eight people. The guy is a total loon based on what has come out, and he'd probably score very dangerously high on a sociopath scale.


    'Serious BDSM' is what I do sometimes, but it has nothing to do with being a sociopath!

    If BDSM is not your piece of cake, fine, but do not put it at the same level as killing people because you simply do not understand it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:30PM (#22530680)
    Since when was being into "serious BDSM" grounds for making an individual out to be anything other than safe, sane and consensual? You don't convince somebody to keep letting you tie them up by hurting them so badly they never want to do it again. Not to mention the fact that most men and women aren't interested in hardcore BDSM on the first date either.

    I am actually a bit appalled by societies continual desire to debase somebody and make them out to be sick and twisted simply because they choose to engage in slightly less mainstream sexual activities. Despite the fact that the majority of the population engages in BDSM of one form or another at some point in time, enjoying BDSM does NOT in anyway have any link to being deranged or twisted or mentally unstable. If anything, I would argue that the mo intelligent an individual, the more likely they are to engage in BDSM in the first place. That doesn't mean there aren't twisted, sick people who happen to like and engage in BDSM but then again, there are good Christians who also kill and maim and you don't see people making the link between that and antisocial acts.

    Surely the "technogeek" Slashdot crowd is by and far more likely to engage in BDSM than sheeple at large. At least, slowly, attitudes are changing towards BDSM but we still have a long way to go. At least you can buy a sex toy in Texas. Only took what, 30 years to get that law off the books? And we had to go through judicial interpretation in order to do so. Thanks for nothing, Texas Legislature.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:35PM (#22530732)
    "yet I am perfectly capable of functioning in normal society."

    Slave society was once "normal", being normal is not always what it's cracked up to be.
  • by Skapare (16644) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:44PM (#22530806) Homepage

    2) I think he's guilty.

    Is this just speculation on your part? Or did he admit this to you? Or were you there when it happened?

    I personally do not know if he is guilty or not ... because I was not there to be a witness. And I probably will not ever know because I actually do have some specific experience to know that courtroom procedures frequently do prohibit a fair and truthful trial from taking place along the lines of one ruling the judge in this case has already made.

  • Re:peers? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Skapare (16644) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:48PM (#22530854) Homepage

    If they were so smart, they would have thought of an excuse to get out of jury duty.

    That presumes they want to get out of jury duty.

  • by HeavensBlade23 (946140) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:59PM (#22530936)
    I wouldn't vote to convict based on that, however damning it may look, anymore than I would vote to convict of a computer crime because they were using encryption. Maybe he did kill her, I don't know, but there's some serious doubt about whether she could be hiding out in Russia or dead at the hands of the ex-boyfriend who admitted to killing nearly a dozen people.
  • Re:risky defense (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:13PM (#22531022)

    How many geeks here have bit their tongue when you had something to say - something that to you is infallible, cold hard logic - that you knew others would misinterpret?

    If I were accused of murdering someone in a dumb way, I would immediately be thinking "Wow, that's dumb, I would never kill someone like that. This way would be so much simpler". I have no desire or intention of killing another, but that's just how I think - why would I go through all that trouble if there was an easier way? So it couldn't have been me. And it would make perfect sense to me, but I'm betting others would interpret it as the complete opposite.

    So yes, it makes _some_ sense to me that someone could be intelligent but socially dumb, and trip up doing something others would think make you guilty. Most of us, I suspect, are just smart enough to not let that happen. Of course this Reiser case is just whacked out from all angles, so who knows what the truth is anymore.

  • by cuantar (897695) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:14PM (#22531044) Homepage
    Actually, the jury need not necessarily vote one way or the other. Even if there is no shadow of a doubt that Reiser committed the crime, the jury is still well within their rights to give a not guilty verdict. Perhaps in the case of murder, jury nullification is the wrong thing to do, but it's still very much an option. The jury is not bound to support the law.
  • by BiggerIsBetter (682164) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:15PM (#22531046)
    You forgot to mention the other guy, Sean Sturgeon, who was also close to the victim. The dude who has confessed to killing 8 (yes, eight) people, and was dating Nina (Hans' wife). IMHO, it's more likely that Hans was reading up on how to kill Sean (or even how to avoid being killed by Sean) than how to kill Nina.
  • by Schlage (195535) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:18PM (#22531078)

    Is this just speculation on your part? Or did he admit this to you? Or were you there when it happened?
    Maybe it's just me, but by the fact that he said "think" would mean that he was not claiming to know, so I would label that speculation.

    I personally do not know if he is guilty or not ... because I was not there to be a witness. And I probably will not ever know because I actually do have some specific experience to know that courtroom procedures frequently do prohibit a fair and truthful trial from taking place along the lines of one ruling the judge in this case has already made.
    Chill out. I mean, the man just stated an opinion, it's not like he's in a position of authority or that he's vehemently arguing the case.
  • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@ ... a - h u dson.com> on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:19PM (#22531084) Journal

    Who the hell commits a crime with pair of books on crime in their vehicle, and then leave it all there for someone to find. Programmers know too much about allocation and management of objects to not destroy them when its detrimental they no longer exist.

    So there's no such thing as a buffer overrun, or forgetting to mate every call to malloc() with a free()?

    I don't buy the "programmer geek defense". It doesn't match up with the reality, which is that you don't have to be a programmer to be an asshole. They're orthogonic. Lets look at the excuses another way:

    1. The books - a "reverse psychology" ploy - figurng that he's so much smarter than everyone else, and that they'd buy into his "well, if I were guilty, why would I have such books? I'd be stupid!" Narcisssists are very much likely to think along such convoluted lines, and to believe that others will fall for their "explanations"
    2. The front seat - well, if it had blood on it, he had to dispose of it, since he wasn't smart enough to know that its possible to destroy the dna evidence (if he hadn't been into reading popular books about crime scene technology, and instead read up on the subject properly, he'd have known this). The last murder trial I sat on, the dna expert said he couldn't mention the techniques that could be used to destroy the evidence (you can buy the needed stuff at your local grocery store, btw), but that no such destruction had taken place.
    3. The $8k and passport. That doesn't need much of an explanation, and could be quite innocent. His wife had already grabbed $$$ from the bank account. Wouldn't YOU want to stay "liquid" in such a case? Passport - why leave it around for someone to grab when you're living in your car?

    Do I believe he did it? I can't say - I'm not on the jury. However, I definitely don't buy into the defense tactic of 'geek nerds are "special" and "hard to understand"' as a "get out of jail" card.

    Reiser's lawyer is making a big mistake. Sure, he's playing the "this guy is a creep" card to the jury - but he's also insulting the jury's intelligence by thinking that they won't see it for what it is - a ploy, and not evidence one way or the other. Not trusting a jury can come back and bite you - look at what happened with Jamie Thomas and the $222,000 copyright infringement award. The jurors were pissed that she lied to them [switched.com], and made it known both inside and outside the courtroom [wired.com].

    "She's a liar. We wanted to send a message. I don't know what the fuck she was thinking."

    Better to not take the stand, and let people suspect you're an idiot, than to take it, and prove them right.

    Then there's the danger that the jurors will think - "If they really expect us to buy into this bs, they must think we just fell off a turnip truck. Sounds like what I'd expect a guilty know-it-all to do."

    At the very least, the choice of tactics shows that the lawyer doesn't believe his client is innocent. Based on that, I'd say the jury will probably convict.

  • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@ ... a - h u dson.com> on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:26PM (#22531134) Journal

    "There is no clear motive for Hans to of killed his wife."

    There are motives aplenty:

    1. She cleaned out his bank account
    2. She got custody of the kids
    3. She was sleeping with someone else
    4. She had called an end to their marriage
    5. She had gone out and gotten herself a job where she specified she was now single

    People have killed their former spouses over much less. There's plenty of motive.

  • Re:peers? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:27PM (#22531140) Homepage
    Dunno, when I was called up for jury duty, I was looking forward to it. It was something different, something I'd never done before. (Or, perhaps I could have tried to avoid it, so I could keep working on code in my cubicle ...)


    (I'm not sure if I'm agreeing with you, DNS-and-BIND, or not.)

    Alas, they turned out not needing me. Maybe next time.

  • by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:34PM (#22531182) Journal
    "There's a sizable amount of circumstantial evidence that he did it, with little plausible explanations in his defense."

    And that is the problem, circumstantial evidence should not be enough to convict. And no, the defense doesn't have to 'explain' the seat, nor does anyone need to answer 'who did it' to aquit him.

    Like many Aussies, I thought this woman [wikipedia.org] was guilty simply because she came across as an unfeeling religious zelot that couldn't explain other peoples' assumptions about dingo behaviour. By no means does that imply this guy is innocent but as the judge said 'the evidence is thin'.
  • Re:risky defense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timmarhy (659436) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:35PM (#22531196)
    I can't believe you can go to a murder trial with so LITTLE evidence she is dead though. they found some small blood samples in his car and garage.

    those could be explained easily in normal circumstances, even easier with his wifes known affair with a BDSM freak. maybe at some point her and her lover got freaky in the garage before the divorce?

    so we have that and we have a book on famous murder trials. wow really compelling case there, you can't even prove she's dead let alone who killed her.

  • Re:peers? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@ ... a - h u dson.com> on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:37PM (#22531212) Journal

    If they were so smart, they would have thought of an excuse to get out of jury duty.
    The jury is middle aged, middle class, small-C conservative. It draws people who make decisions in society - wield real power - simply because they are able - and willing - to put in whatever time and effort is needed to get the job done.

    ... or its composed of people who are uncomfortable with the idea of lying to get out of having to perform what many people consider an onerous duty.

    If you're innocent, these are the type of people you'd want to entrust your fate to. If you're guilty, on the other hand ...

  • Re:Gem of a quote (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bigstrat2003 (1058574) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:55PM (#22531322)
    The name of the OS doesn't have to have a damn thing to do with the parties whose work went into it. It's just a name, the proper place for recognition of work is elsewhere. So while it certainly isn't wrong to call Linux GNU/Linux, it's stupid and unnecessary. Anyone who gives a damn about the GNU part of it can presumably easily find out already, without renaming the OS to some really awkward-sounding name.
  • by LaskoVortex (1153471) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @10:07PM (#22531402)

    because this seems like a defense of desperation

    A defense of desparation is no worse than a prosecution of desparation. From what I understand of the article, the prosecution has (1) no dead body (2) no murder weapon (3) no suspects outside of "the usual supects" and (4) no evidence outside of peculiar behavior. So, if your evidence of a crime you can't prove even ever happened is peculiar behavior of a suspect for the hypothetical crime, don't feel short changed when the defence turns out to be the defending of said peculiar behavior.

  • by dubl-u (51156) * <2523987012@p[ ].to ['ota' in gap]> on Saturday February 23, 2008 @10:09PM (#22531418)

    Believe it or not, I have been in a situation where I had a removed front passenger seat and a soaked footwell. [...] I removed the seat so I could get my head in there to look closely. But then I ran out of time, so I just left it like that till next weekend.
    That's surely plausible. But the notion that Reiser then threw out the seat? No way. Every geek I know has a giant collection of old parts that they will use "someday". A real geek would have kept the seat. Even if there was something wrong with it, there were plenty of good parts on that sucker.

    Christ, I've still got a 100 MB SCSI hard drive in my parts bin that I haven't thrown away yet. Yeah, megabytes, that's right.
  • Re:My Suspicion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Adambomb (118938) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @10:13PM (#22531454) Journal
    Yeah, I hate believing people are innocent until proven guilty too.

    Oh yeah, and why waste time investigating another possible lead when its easier to just mount a better case against the guy in question.

    wait.

    As i've said in other posts, i'm not saying i think he is guilty nor not guilty. The fact of the matter remains that there is no body, and the evidence is pretty highly stacked and yet localized in a slightly suspect fashion (IE: the books on crime in the vehicle?). Granted the circumstancial evidence is pretty damning, especially the removed seat and such that another post mentioned and the fact that he picked up his kids at school when it was supposed to be their mothers turn to do so.

    It still all boils down to inference based on circumstantial evidence. Now, if there was further investigation into sturgeon and they found nothing to go on whatsoever, THEN it would all be downright damning.

    What the hell has happened to the concept of justice, when did it become "once in the courts, its a versus b and ignore the rest".
  • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@ ... a - h u dson.com> on Saturday February 23, 2008 @10:20PM (#22531492) Journal

    All I'm saying is that as a defense, it sucks the big one.

    Its not a valid defense. It may satisfy Reiser as a defense, but it won't satisfy the jury, who will see it as an attempt to manipulate or game them by someone who thinks he's smart enough to get away with it. (by "it", I don't mean murder - I'm referring to the attempted manipulation)

    Here we have someone with much personal motive (his wife had left him, cleaned out his bank account, gotten custody of the kids, was having sex with someone else, etc), and this is the best defense the lawyer can come up with? It sounds like his own lawyer doesn't believe him.

  • by glwtta (532858) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @10:33PM (#22531584) Homepage
    BDSM is also a sign that something is not quite right in your head, but presumably not to the degree of homicide. You might want to ses a psychiatrist, sadomasochism is considered a psychological disorder.

    In common parlance, "sadomasochism" refers to just about any kind of power play, and has absolutely nothing to do with clinical psychopathy.

    Here's a tip: if you need to look up the definition of a sexual practice on Wikipedia, you are probably not entirely qualified to categorize the whole thing as a psychological disorder.

    Of course, it all depends on what they actually mean by "serious" BDSM; given his other proclivities it could easily lie well outside the definition that most people who are actually into BDSM would use.

    Let's put it in Slashdot-friendly terms: adding BDSM to the list of evidence of being a crazy person is about as justified as claiming that the presence of encryption software on a computer is evidence of criminal intent.
  • by Puffy Director Pants (1242492) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @10:37PM (#22531612)
    Fortunately, being an annoying pest is not a criminal offense at this time. I say fortunately, because otherwise half of Slashdot would end up in jail over it if it were.
  • by TapeCutter (624760) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @11:44PM (#22532034) Journal
    I agree, it isn't relevant. You are simply missing my point...

    "I'd email this story to Reiser's lawyers, but [...] I think he's guilty" - OP

    Still looks like 'discounting contra-evidence because of his beliefs' too me. The OP may be a 'nice guy' and we are not selecting a jury however, that statement makes me think he would have a tendency to ignore evidence that goes against he prejudical assumption of guilt, so I reitterate, I don't wan't him on a jury.
  • by TapeCutter (624760) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @12:39AM (#22532316) Journal
    "Put your money where your mouth is then. Designing a file system is harder than it looks"

    Get over yourself. Anyone with a half decent CS degree and a few years of systems programming under their belt can/has designed and implemented file sytems, memory managers, job schedulers, etc. We know it's hard to improve on what exists because we know about what exists. That is why the OP said 'I could write a file system' rather than 'I will write a better filesystem'.
  • by ucblockhead (63650) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @12:56AM (#22532412) Homepage Journal
    Please read up on circumstantial evidence [wikipedia.org]. If a someone is seen entering a house, the victim is heard screaming "oh my God, he's killing me!!!!" and that someone then is seen fleeing the house with a bloody knife, then there is only circumstantial evidence that he committed the crime.

    Circumstantial evidence is any evidence that is not direct. The phrase "circumstantial evidence" means that the evidence implies that manner in which the crime was committed. It says nothing about how strong the implication is. For a murder, pretty much only confessions and eyewitnesses are not circumstantial evidence. Scott Peterson [wikipedia.org] was convicted purely on circumstantial evidence. DNA evidence is circumstantial evidence. Finding the Mona Lisa in someone's bedroom is only circumstantial evidence that they stole it.

    The evidence against Reiser may well be thin. Not sitting in the jury box, it is not for me to say one way or another. But that the evidence is only circumstantial has nothing to do with whether the evidence is weak or not.

    If you refuse to convict on circumstantial evidence, you'll almost never convict anyone.
  • by dasunt (249686) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @05:42AM (#22533620)

    No, they found items containing her blood (sleeping bag), and there was blood samples in Reisers garage.

    I really, really wish they'd go into details about this.

    The other day, I scratched part of my leg through my jeans. I didn't think about it until that night when I found a quarter-sized stain on my skin (and presumably on my black pants). Congrats, I now have blood-stained pants.

    Blood on a sleeping bag seems probable enough. What's the alternative? He put her in a sleeping bag, drove to the middle of nowhere, disposed of the body after taking it out of the sleeping bag, and brought the sleeping bag back? (But did dispose of the car seat, because a missing sleeping bag wouldn't be overlooked, but a car seat would have been?)

    Seems odd.

    The blood in the garage could also be innocent or damning. Is it a few drops on a workbench? Or is it a few drops leading directly from the house to where the car is normally parked? Of course, the latter has innocent explanations as well (someone going to the ER to get some stitches, someone going to the car to grab a bandage from the car's first aid kit, etc).

  • by shaitand (626655) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @09:07AM (#22534282) Journal
    'I'm no mathematician'

    Obviously. If you are rolling a six sided die and guess the result will be 4 you have a one in six chance of being correct. Where the roulette junkies get led astray is that they think if the result was not 4 then the chances of getting 4 are better on the next roll since 4 is "due" or if the result was 4 they think the chances of rolling a subsequent 4 are lower. Those are all false, if you have rolled twenty fours in a row your chances of rolling a 4 on the next toss are still just 1 in 6.

    You are also suggesting that Hans has to provide reasonable doubt, Hans is innocent until the prosecution proves that he killed his wife beyond any reasonable doubt. Hans gets the benefit of the doubt.
  • by BorgDrone (64343) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @10:03AM (#22534602) Homepage

    Not trusting a jury can come back and bite you - look at what happened with Jamie Thomas and the $222,000 copyright infringement award. The jurors were pissed that she lied to them [switched.com], and made it known both inside and outside the courtroom [wired.com].

    "She's a liar. We wanted to send a message. I don't know what the fuck she was thinking."
    Wow, reading stuff like this makes me really glad I don't live in a country that has something as stupid trial by jury. I wouldn't want my fate to be decided by a bunch of random idiots. Isn't the jury supposed to decide if the accused is guilty of the deed they are accused of ? Instead of "sending her a message" because she hurt their feelings ? That statement by a member of the jury alone should have been enough to nullify the judgement.
  • by Lijemo (740145) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @11:47AM (#22535240)

    Not trusting a jury can come back and bite you - look at what happened with Jamie Thomas and the $222,000 copyright infringement award. The jurors were pissed that she lied to them [switched.com], and made it known both inside and outside the courtroom [wired.com]. "She's a liar. We wanted to send a message. I don't know what the fuck she was thinking."
    Wow, reading stuff like this makes me really glad I don't live in a country that has something as stupid trial by jury. I wouldn't want my fate to be decided by a bunch of random idiots. Isn't the jury supposed to decide if the accused is guilty of the deed they are accused of ? Instead of "sending her a message" because she hurt their feelings ? That statement by a member of the jury alone should have been enough to nullify the judgement.

    There are two types of jury trials in the US-- criminal and civil. In a civil trial (where the punishment, if there is one, is in the form of a fine) the jury determines what the penelty is.

    In a criminal trial (such as the one in TFA, which can result in imprisonment), all the jury decides is whether the prosecution has proven their case that the defendent is guilty. The judge then decides the penalties, based on guidelines, precedents, and his/her own judgement

    The standard of proof required is also different. In a civil case (such as the one you quote), if a jury member is 60% sure the defendant is guilty, they are suppposed to find them "guilty". In a criminal case, the standard of proof is much higher, so the same 60% certainty of guilt should result in "not guilty", because their prosecution has not sufficiently proved their case.

    The result is that the civil trial system is much more capricious than the criminal trial. Thus you should not hold up an example of a civil trial to complain about our criminal trial system. (There may still be things to complain about, but don't hold up an apple and complain about oranges.)

  • by greyhueofdoubt (1159527) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @11:53AM (#22535276) Homepage Journal
    It might just be a matter of semantics, but in this case "a bunch of random idiots"=="peers" as in, "a jury of your peers."

    According to OED, a peer is:
    "A person of the same age, status, or ability as another specified person"

    She was guilty, I have no doubt, and she deserved to be found as such. The outrageous penalty was similar to a harsh penalty given to reprobate or unrepentant murderer; e.g., a murderer's attitude and actions prior to and after the act are taken into account during sentencing.

    Despite the juror's inelegant comments, he had a point: the fact that Jammie treated the case with such an attitude of entitlement should affect a jury's decision. It's kind of the way involuntary manslaughter is sentenced differently from first-degree murder.

    Yes, I agree that the fines were an order of magnitude too high, but the issue is not nearly as one-sided as you make it out to be. N.B. that the trial took place ~10 blocks from my house.

    -b
  • by JavaRob (28971) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @11:53AM (#22535280) Homepage Journal
    I'm always leery of using media reporting to follow any court case, though perhaps Wired will do better than the average general-consumption newspaper.

    Did you notice this from the (Washington Post) article?

    His signal adult achievement was ReiserFS, a file system he named for himself, unusual in the programming world. The system organizes data on Linux, the "open source" operating system.
    Ah, unusual in the programming world (this guy's a freakish egomaniac!) -- and in the next sentence they mention Linux, which as we all know was created by Bob Torvalds.

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