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Internet-Caused Mistrials Are On the Rise 414

Posted by kdawson
from the jurors-with-blackberrys dept.
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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Internet-Caused Mistrials Are On the Rise

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  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:17AM (#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.
    • by gnick (1211984) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:28PM (#27243127) Homepage

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

      I think that the bigger issue is that the average juror may just not give a shit about the judges instructions.

      Frankly, if I want to know the details about a case, why would I trust the media (who are digging deep and trying to sensationalize trivial details in order to keep me from changing the channel) any more or less than the lawyers (who are digging deep and trying to distort facts to try to "persuade" me to vote in their favor)? When you're dealing with bias everywhere, you're tempted to just collect as much data as you can - Even if you're instructed not to and know that it's "wrong".

      • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @01:22PM (#27243967) Homepage

        Frankly, if I want to know the details about a case, why would I trust the media (who are digging deep and trying to sensationalize trivial details in order to keep me from changing the channel) any more or less than the lawyers (who are digging deep and trying to distort facts to try to "persuade" me to vote in their favor)?

        Because the lawyers are on opposing sides, and so the balance of the evidence they bring forward should produce a complete picture (unless they're colluding or something). There's simply no way you, with a blackberry, are going to be able to find evidence relevant to the case that the two parties won't already have brought forward (unless they, or the investigators in the case, did a truly terrible job).

        The *only* evidence you'll gain access to is that which was ruled inadmissable by the judge. But that evidence is inadmissable for a reason. Who are you to decide whether or not you'll abide by that ruling? I mean, jebus, those rulings are made for a reason!

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Hyppy (74366)

          Who are you to decide whether or not you'll abide by that ruling?

          Jury nullification [wikipedia.org] applies, I would think. The final check and balance is not the judge, it is the people.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jank1887 (815982)
        because the judge and opposing counsel are supposed to reign in irrelevancy, speculation, statements unsupported by fact, etc. We all know how good the media is at that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        But that's just it, you're not dealing with bias "everywhere". You're dealing with two very specific biases, the prosecution and the defence. And (in theory) they're supposed to cancel out, and you can work out the "truth" by seeing both sides of the story. You're absolutely not dealing with bias in the media, because you're not bloody well consulting with the media during the trial. If you're listening to the media at all, you are, as they say, Doing It Wrong. And your proposed solution to this Doing It Wr

  • Easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by smooth wombat (796938) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:17AM (#27240817) Homepage Journal

    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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MeanMF (631837)
      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.
      • by DrVomact (726065) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:25PM (#27244919) Journal

        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.

        You're right, it's definitely worse here in Texas. Last time I was on a jury, they wouldn't let me bring my gun into the courthouse.

    • Re:Easy solution (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Crazy Man on Fire (153457) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:48AM (#27241371) Homepage

      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 (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hedwards (940851) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:52AM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by smooth wombat (796938) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:08AM (#27241757) Homepage Journal

        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 (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Archangel Michael (180766) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:18AM (#27241907) Journal

        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 (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jbolden (176878) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:27AM (#27242063) Homepage

          Mark Furman perjured himself on the stand and the defense showed that he had violated the law as a matter of course. Obviously evidence he collected needed to be questioned. The prosecution should have double and triple checked the evidence, and had more of it. A murder trial should not come down to a single glove.

        • Re:Easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Mikkeles (698461) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:08PM (#27242779)

          'And what is "fair" is totally stacked against the state, and in favor of the defendant.'

          Yes; the State only gets to make the laws, the rules of evidence, appoint the judges (at least at the higher levels), have a very large group of investigators working specifically for them, and unlimited time and budget, while the accused has a whole lawyer and a gumshoe.

          Totally unfair!

        • Re:Easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jerAzevedo (1326315) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:26PM (#27243101)
          This is precisely how the law is supposed to be.

          The United States constitution is specifically designed to give the defendant an edge in court. The founding fathers believed that it's better to let a guilty man run free than let an innocent man be found guilty.

          Hence all the principles about innocent until proven guilty etc. This is a very important cornerstone of our country and sadly it seems a lot of people don't understand this. A lot of people would rather lock up almost anyone who gets put on trial just to make sure that all the guilty are in fact found guilty. The problem of course is that you end up locking up more innocent people than you do guilty people.
          • Re:Easy solution (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Varitek (210013) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:21PM (#27244855)

            The founding fathers believed that it's better to let a guilty man run free than let an innocent man be found guilty.

            And that should be trivially obvious too - it doesn't take a complicated debate on ethics. When a guilty man is found not guilty, a guilty man goes free. When an innocent man is found guilty, an innocent man is punished and a guilty man goes free.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by noidentity (188756)

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

          Everyone? I've never been to the city he lived in, nor was I in the courtroom. I'd rather have some guilty people go free than have an innocent person be put in prison.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by khallow (566160)

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

          I'd call that "wrong" rather than a "slight oversimplification". The prosecution ran a poor case throughout. They knew that they were dealing with a top notch defense team yet they were still (as I dimly recall) making bad mistakes throughout the trial.

          You also ignore that the key piece of evidence, the glove didn't fit OJ's hands when he tried it on in court. That probably was due to improper care of the glove, but it was enough to secure an acquittal. Remember that the jury didn't spend very long to decid

      • Re:Easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:40AM (#27242273) Homepage Journal
        The worst part is, the Jury is supposed to be a passive box that just absorbs whatever information the lawyers wish to provide. If you use your brain and start coming up with questions of your own, well, tough because you're not allowed to ask them. Even if one of the lawyers is completely incompetent and missing all sorts of obvious points, you're not allowed to do anything. It is your duty to hang that fellow just because his public defender barely even knows his name, much less his case.
        • by gclef (96311) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:25PM (#27243077)

          you're not allowed to do anything

          Of course you are...they just don't want you to know that you are. (Hint: google "jury nullification" some time.) (Hint #2: those two words are a really fast way to get thrown off a jury.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Ironica (124657)

        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.

        The one jury I was on had very little in common too... which made things *fascinating*. One guy was the head of new technologies for Citibank, and he and his wife were getting ready to adopt a baby from Korea. Another guy was the president of programming for Showtime. One of the women was a security guard, and had some *awesome* stories. Everyone was very different... and we'd go to lunch together, and talk about our lives and stuff that happened to us that had nothing to do with the case, and it was ve

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jonnythan (79727)

      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by chalkyj (927554)
        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 (Score:4, Interesting)

          by jonnythan (79727) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:03AM (#27241665) Homepage

          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.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Zordak (123132)

            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.

            I think you're overestimating the notoriety of the average case. Sure, if you're a juror for OJ Simpson or Michael Jackson, you can read every tiny little detail on Wikipedia. But if you're sitting on the jury for $JUNKIE[357], you probably won't find much except for the defendant's poorly-spelled and gramatically-dubious blog posts about his sexual exploits of questionable veracity. Maybe you'll find something on the arresting officer or DA in the local paper's archives if they've done something really

          • Wow! (Score:3, Funny)

            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.

            That's amazing! What kind of printer are you using?

  • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:17AM (#27240819) Journal

    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.

    • by Shakrai (717556) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:19AM (#27240857) Journal

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

  • 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.
    • by danwesnor (896499)
      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).
  • 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 pa

  • by aquatone282 (905179) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:24AM (#27240921)

    God help us all.

    • by Shakrai (717556)

      I dunno. Jury of our peers > the alternatives.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      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.

  • 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 th
    • by Ares (5306)

      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dexmachina (1341273)

      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 wheth

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Quothz (683368)

      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.)

  • 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

    • by Shakrai (717556) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:43AM (#27241273) Journal

      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by N3Roaster (888781)

      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.

    • by davmoo (63521)

      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

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Cro Magnon (467622)

        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

        It wouldn't bother me if you got the info from Wikipedia - as long as I got to edit it first.

    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:08AM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bug (8519)
        That is not entirely true. Jury nullification [wikipedia.org] occurs when a jury makes a decision on a point of law (i.e., that the law itself should not be enforced). Judges have done everything in their power to limit jury nullification, but that power does still exist.
        • by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @01:11PM (#27243751)

          That is not entirely true. Jury nullification occurs when a jury makes a decision on a point of law (i.e., that the law itself should not be enforced).

          That jury nullification exists as a de facto power is a very different thing than whether or not it is proper. It certainly is the case that the jury can decide the fact questions presented to it on any basis it chooses, including improper ones. Its a bit more debatable whether jury nullification is proper, but in any case jury nullification is not a finding on what the law is, it is a finding that the law should not be applied at all and that the defendant should be let off notwithstanding the law.

          Inasmuch as jury nullification is a desirable power of juries (whether or not technically a proper one), I would say that independent, out-of-court investigation, whose contents are not revealed completely to the parties, by jurors in support of it is equally problematic as such investigation in the jury's role as trier of fact, for the same reason: it brings arguments into the jury deliberations that have not been presented to the parties to the case and which the parties whose interests are harmed have no opportunity to rebut.

           

  • I think... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JustShootMe (122551) * <rmiller@duskglow.com> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:29AM (#27241055) Homepage Journal

    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 ;)

  • ...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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Domint (1111399)

      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... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by abigsmurf (919188) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:45AM (#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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by The Moof (859402)

        Lawyers and judges are skilled at knowing what is and isn't relevant to a case.

        They're also quite skilled at distorting truth and presenting it in a way that manipulates and misleads a jury to get their desired results.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      How is this any different than going to a library and looking up info after court?

      Well, because you don't have to go to a library. And you don't have to look it up. And you don't have to wait until after court. But other than that, it's identical!

  • 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]

  • 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 t
    • by ChromaticDragon (1034458) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:00AM (#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.

    • by DaveV1.0 (203135) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:00AM (#27241623) Journal

      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.

  • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:39AM (#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".
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Aladrin (926209)

      Unfortunately, most people are more easily swayed by emotion than you are.

      I agree, I followed the instructions given in the trial. When evidence was mentioned, then withdrawn because it wasn't relevant, the jury as a whole ignored it. At least, they appeared to... I know I did what we were told. (In this case, the 'evidence' would have leaned towards a guilty verdict, and we came up with a unanimous not-guilty right off.)

      But not everyone is able to use logic rather than emotion. Some people feel a need

  • Double-Edged Sword (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bratwiz (635601)

    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

  • by DirtyUncleRon69 (1492865) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:43AM (#27241263)
    I can get out of jury duty?
  • Contempt (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly (148874) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:01AM (#27241631)

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

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Cajun Hell (725246)

      Hey cool. Once we get people used to the idea that jurors can be held in contempt, then we can starting holding them in contempt whenever they don't vote the "right" way.

      "Juror, I told you that you have to find the defendant guilty! 30 days!"

  • by spinninggears (551247) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:14AM (#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.
    • "legal system to do things right, a..."

      Bull.

      outside information can prejudice a juror. The role of juror is to come to a conclusion based on the allowed 'facts' in that court room.

      If the internet was an unimpeachable source, then we could have a nice discussion about looking into it and it's impact on the criminal system. Since it is not, then you have jurors as likely as not getting bad information.

      If it isn't challenged, then it is true for that court room.

  • by MillenneumMan (932804) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:16AM (#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.

  • Finality and Morons (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MarkvW (1037596) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:35AM (#27242201)

    This is not about "blaming" the technology. It is about adapting to the technology. In the old days, as one poster notes, a fool juror would retire to the bar and blab about the trial. This kind of blabbing would get the juror removed and might get a mistrial--if there was anybody out there who was motivated enough to report it to the court.

    Now, fool jurors can blab about a trial indelibly, and to the whole world. It is very easy for such information to get back to the court.

    You have no idea how awful it is for a perfectly good trial to get mistrialed because of a misbehaving juror. Think about rape victims having to testify about their ordeal a second time. Think about crucial murder witnesses who die after the mistrial and before the retrial. Think about thousands and thousands of dollars in preparation--wasted. And a civil "bet the company" trial where a juror leaks inside information . . .

    The internet is increasing the frequency of mistrials. How will we respond? Ignore it and put up with the extreme waste? Penalize jurors? Sequestrate jurors? There are not a lot of choices.

    I say hammer the juror whose misbehavior requires a mistrial--with very steep civil and criminal penalties.

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