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The Courts Your Rights Online

Lawyer Demands Jury Stops Googling 517

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the justice-has-no-wifi dept.
coomaria noted an unsurprising story about how courts are having problems with jurors Googling during cases. As anyone who has ever been called for jury duty knows, you aren't allowed to get outside information about the case you are hearing, but apparently the iPhone makes it far too easy to ignore this advice. A lawyer is trying to get jurors to sign a form explicitly stating they won't "use 'personal electronic and media devices' to research or communicate about the case." Of course, I'm not exactly sure why a juror should need to sign something for your iPhone but not a newspaper.
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Lawyer Demands Jury Stops Googling

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  • by Verteiron (224042) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:33AM (#29453943) Homepage

    "Not aloud"? "To easy"?

    Is there an editor in the house?

  • More Work (Score:2, Insightful)

    by anglophobe_0 (1383785) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:38AM (#29454013)
    If they don't stop this behavior, Police who testify will have to use something more convincing than a quote from Wikipedia to put someone behind bars.
  • by Richard W.M. Jones (591125) <rich@NoSpAm.annexia.org> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:42AM (#29454083) Homepage

    If jurors search online for information about the case or the defendant, then it makes it harder to maintain the presumption of innocence.

    For example, the media might report all sort of information about the case: the defendant had previously been seen hanging around the schoolyard, the defendant was "known to police", he was convicted of a similar crime 20 years before, etc.

    Some of this information might be true, and some of it might not be true. If it's raised during the court case, then it can be rebutted by the other side. If it's just speculation printed in the media and found out by the jurors from their hotel room, the defence might not know what they have to rebut.

    Of course .. this is going to get harder and harder as computers and the internet become more and more pervasive.

    Rich.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:42AM (#29454085)

    Damn SMS and IM is killing all languages all over the planet.

    The submitter's errors aren't SMS-isms, they're just plain old poor English.

  • by oldspewey (1303305) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:42AM (#29454093)
    While a newspaper may contain some high-level information about the case (and that's assuming you don't live in a jurisdiction with publication bans - in which case the newspapers will have nothing at all), having a web-enabled device allows you to look up background information, similar cases and their outcomes, the recently-created facebook group named "fry that bastard", and literally dozens of other ways to colour your perception of the facts being presented in the courtroom.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:45AM (#29454137) Homepage

    It's not the CSI effect, it's the "most Americans are stupid" effect.

    Honestly, Most can not tell the difference between Fantasy on TV and reality. this is why a jury in a technical case is not a "jury of your peers" unless the jury is compromised of IT and CS people.

  • by lastomega7 (1060398) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:46AM (#29454151)
    Yeah, the media is always accurate. We should revamp the entire judicial system to be run by the media. The correct ruling is always the most sensationalist. No need to make sure both sides of the case have equal voice.
  • by Smidge204 (605297) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:49AM (#29454191) Journal

    If you're ever on the defending end of a case, would you REALLY trust people to "inform themselves" about your case? From the internet, of all places? It's bad enough people watch CSI and end up in a jury box honestly thinking that's how forensic evidence really works.

    We can't even trust people to "inform themselves" about national issues like health care reform - something that would actually effect their own lives, let alone make or break yours.

    Confiscate the damn phones at the door.

    On a lighter note: don't forget that with only a few exceptions, the ones who end up in a jury are the people too stupid to get out of it. :)
    =Smidge=

  • Oh puhlease... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MikeRT (947531) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:49AM (#29454201) Homepage
    The prosecution and defense have, for years, been trying to weed out intelligent, informed jurors especially ones that know the defendant or the victim. They claim it is necessary to keep out prejudice even while they do extremely unethical things like introducing the testimony of career criminals who have been given incentives to testilie (aka jailhouse snitches) and to keep information about the victim/plaintiff's behavior from the jury's ears lest the jury come to the conclusion that their behavior was so irresponsible that it mitigates the severity of what the defendant did.
  • by pavon (30274) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:51AM (#29454225)

    Yes, I want the people deciding my fate to make their decision based on what they heard about the case on Fox News rather than information that meets reasonable criteria to be considered evidence.

  • by Rui del-Negro (531098) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:51AM (#29454229) Homepage

    "Googling"...?

    "the iPhone makes it far to easy to ignore this advice"...?

    Did the iPhone suddenly invent mobile internet access? Web access has been a standard feature of every cell phone and PDA sold in the world (certainly in Europe and Asia) since years before the iPhone even existed. And is Google now somehow the only way to contact other people or read news websites?

    Can these articles at least be tagged with "productplacement" or possibly "fanboysummary"?

    And anyway, sequestered jurors aren't allowed to keep cellphones, while non-sequestered jurors can even watch TV, so the whole point is nonsensical.

  • Re:i have an idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tehcyder (746570) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:52AM (#29454245) Journal

    if a truly impartial wiki was available

    If there were such a thing as absolute impartial truth available, you wouldn't need a jury in the first place, just a computer to say "yes" or "no".

  • Re:i have an idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kell Bengal (711123) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:53AM (#29454259)
    This is a naive idea.

    Concepts like impartiality are nice, but the only people we trust to be impartial in practice are judges who are carefully appointed after much review - and we all know how technically literate they are.

    If you had a third party do this, who would moderate the biases of this group? And who will moderate them? And how do you keep them from influence from outsiders with vested interests? And how do you prevent incremental factual distortions introduced by successive paraphrasing (eg. 'telephone' whispers)? And how will they even decide what is relevant to the case without introducing selection bias?

    If jurors were smart enough to do it themselves, great! They can decide what evidence and facts are important to the case they are hearing. If you have non-judiciary third parties involved you're just opening a huge can of worms.

  • by R2.0 (532027) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:02PM (#29454401)

    "If you think proper spelling is important (I am not saying that it isn't) then you should make a case, not a complaint."

    Ok, how about this: proper spelling is a sign of a writer's respect for the reader off his work. Misspellings are jarring to the flow of reading comprehension, and are a way of saying "I don't want to put in the labor of proofreading, but I don't mind if you have to work harder to read it." In some literature, that is the intent, but the vast majority of the time it is simply carelessness.

  • Keep em ignorant (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kenp2002 (545495) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:03PM (#29454409) Homepage Journal

    We don't want these jurors looking up information and being educated. Just what we tell them. Period. No dictionaries, thesarus, the more ignorant and impressionable we can keep jurors the better...

    Seriously, what government in their right mind wants jurors not to have resources to research what they are being told?

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:03PM (#29454419) Homepage

    A better approach would be this:

    1. Illegally-siezed evidence is fully admissible. If somebody commits a crime then police error should not be a reason to excuse the crime. The nature of the discovery of the evidence should also be disclosed to the jury.

    2. Officers who illegally-sieze evidence should be seriously punished - I'm talking serious fines or jail-time. It should be illegal to perform an illegal search (well, uh, duh). This needs to be taken seriously, and penalities need to actually be applied the vast majority of the time. Officers wouldn't perform illegal searches if it was 90% likely that it would land them with a $20k fine or a year in prison.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:04PM (#29454439)

    Yes we wouldn't want anyone to color anyone's perception of any facts, of law or of the circumstances of the case, would we?

    No wait, that is what the attorneys are doing and I expect news bans and Google bans are lawyers attempting to protect their income streams.

    You see, the whole idea of "law" was supposed to be for a code to bind a society together by making every member capable of some action affecting others to follow a simple set of clear rules, which, again by definition, were to be simple enough to be memorized in entirety by everyone. That is why Hammurabi had the thing carved in stone and placed at public squares, so that "ignorance of the law" was not an excuse for breaking it.

    The moment however when the "law" becomes so complicated and ambiguous that it requires someone to "interpret it" (i.e. twist it to whatever whim of the moment is fanciful) the whole concept breaks. In short a society which needs lawyers, is by definition lawless, as "law" has morphed from the universal code of conduct to a byzantine, convoluted, religious scripture which requires a career priesthood to worship, massage, "interpret" and twist to the needs of whatever power caste is running the place at the time. The average denizen then simply becomes hapless prey for this caste of parasites with no recourse but to prostate himself/herself before the high-priests of "law" who hold the strings of the citizen's life or death in their hands.

    Ultimately, in a country of lawyers, by lawyers and for lawyers, the laws become such a sick caricature of the original idea that no one knows the "law" to its full extent, including all of its priests. One can test this simple supposition by simply asking any one of them to recite the "law" of the land from memory. In the USA, not only no lawyer, judge or politician could do it (even though the "law" is supposedly binding everyone and its ignorance is "no excuse") but they would not be able to tell you what the current definitive law is at all, even when given the ability to use books and databases to do it, as the code has become so byzantine that its successive layers upon layers of modifications and arcane religious language are so completely unmanageable that pretty much any "legal" decision needs an arbitrary "interpretation" by a cabal of priests.

    And this is why the majority of people instinctively hates lawyers, as even if most people cannot vocalize it, an average person's intrinsic moral compass is able to detect that something is profoundly wrong with the very idea of a lawyer.

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:06PM (#29454459) Homepage

    This is why people need to be taught about the nature of sources and their bias. That applies in both the voting booth and the jury room.

    If I Googled a case and found press reports, I'd probably be fairly skeptical of the information, or I'd at least look at how it was actually obtained. Granted, I'm not necessarily a typical juror. However, it is possible for an educated juror to weigh outside info in making their decisions.

    In any case, as you point out at some point these problems are going to become inevitable - unless net access is pervasively monitored. When we all have implants in our heads that make the internet an extention of our memories, how do you ask a juror not to "remember" anything they didn't hear in the courtroom?

  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:07PM (#29454473) Journal

    Okay.

    If spelling changes then we'll no longer be able to read Shakespeare's plays, our founding documents the Declaration and the Constitution, or great works of literature like A Tale of Two Cities. By affixing spelling and stabilizing it, you preserve access to the past generations' writings. By allowing changes, you end-up with incomprehensible documents such as this:

    Bifil that in that seson, on a day, In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay, Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage, To Caunterbury with ful devout corage, At nyght was come into that hostelrye, Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye, Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle, In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle, That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde. The chambres and the stables weren wyde, And wel we weren esed atte beste; And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste, So hadde I spoken with hem everichon, That I was of hir felaweshipe anon, And made forward erly for to ryse, To take our wey, ther as I yow devyse.

  • Re:Just confused? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by westlake (615356) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:12PM (#29454525)

    Maybe they're just trying to figure out what all the complicated legalese being thrown out by both sides is supposed to mean by checking out Wikipedia or Findlaw?

    Defining the law is the judge's responsibility - and the purely legal decisions are his alone to make.

    He brings to the task a lifetime of experience in court - and his mistakes are open and visible and can be corrected on appeal.

    Legal encyclopedias are held in generally low regard in the states.

    The general reference encyclopedia - particularly one as informally constructed as the Wikipedia - is not appropriate for the courtroom.

  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:13PM (#29454539) Journal

    P.S.

    Just imagine if Roman-Latin has been stabilized in 500 A.D. with fixed spelling and mandatory education. Rather than have a bunch of devolved Latinate dialects, Western Europe would now be united under one universal tongue which would make communication between the peoples of the EU much easier.

  • by Shaltenn (1031884) <Michael.Santangelo@gmail.com> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:17PM (#29454593) Homepage
    I would totally stop avoiding going to jury duty if they would pay me my hourly wage (I am a part time employee, I do not get paid if I do not work, and if I do not get paid I do not have money for my apartment, car, utilities, etc). As I understand it, Federal Jury Duty pays $40 a day, but I work 8am-6pm every day at an hourly rate of $16.50. That means I am out almost $120 for that one day of jury duty. That is two weeks worth of food stuffs, or a payment on my AMEX bill. It is money I simply cannot do without.
  • by Nimey (114278) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:18PM (#29454609) Homepage Journal

    No kidding. My wife was selected for the Missouri jury pool last month. Her compensation (per day) was a little over $20. This is well below minimum wage, and for those people who live paycheck-to-paycheck missing even one or two days of work is a hugely unfair burden.

    I understand my civic responsibilities, the social contract, etc., but I think this makes a strong case for civil disobedience until jurors get fairly compensated for their time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:26PM (#29454761)
    The problem with your example is that the archaic spellings are, in fact, indicative of archaic pronunciations. All those extra e's on the end of words are syllables. We decided to stop saying "best-uh" and just say "best", and the spelling changed to reflect that. That sort of change is pretty inevitable in English. Unlike many other languages, our pronunciations are not strictly in accordance with spelling. There are lots of historic reasons for that, but the upshot is that with many alternate ways to spell the same pronunciation, there will be drift (i.e. plough and plow...yes it was championed by Webster and mandated by TR, but it still shows how the changes do happen). If we were starting over, it would behoove us to define the pronunciation rules rigorously and then the one would follow from the other, but since we didn't, it doesn't, and the changes will continue.
  • by Belial6 (794905) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:37PM (#29454937)
    You are right. I could afford to take the time off for jury duty is I were chosen, but I certainly don't want to. I hate to place an undue burden on employers, but I honestly believe that jury duty needs to be treated much like family leave, and people need to be able to actually collect enough money to live while they are doing the job.
  • Re:Just confused? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:41PM (#29455001) Homepage Journal

    "If the jury members need to understand the legalese someone is doing something wrong."

    Because HEAVEN FORBID the jurors be educated enough to already understand a legal system designed to be so complex that no regular citizen could ever stay totally within the bounds of the law.

    Legalese is BULLSHIT. Write the law in plain fucking English, the language of the land, or GO FUCKING HOME.

  • by oldspewey (1303305) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:46PM (#29455069)

    I won't argue the fact that law and legal process have become perverted, however I still like the idea that if I am in a court of law facing some kind of serious accusation, there are certain norms and procedures. For example, the prosecution is not allowed to make up completely fictitious shit just for fun, and present it to the jury in an attempt to sway their opinion. A random twitterer however, is able to make up random shit about me, and post doctored photoshops, and parrot third-hand accusations.

    I'm not sure I am comfortable with the idea that the jury who is deciding my fate are all sitting there logged onto reddit reading who knows what about me while the case is still underway.

    Are you?

  • by BrokenHalo (565198) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:48PM (#29455115)
    If spelling changes then we'll no longer be able to read Shakespeare's plays...

    Why? Shakespeare belonged to a generation which had no cultural requirement for consistent spelling, especially where the interests of poetry were better served by a particular linguistic form. He didn't even spell his own name consistently.

    Your quotation from Chaucer is hardly incomprehensible. If you read it aloud phonetically (never mind the spelling), it makes sense. Additionally, anyone who has some grasp of modern German will recognise gramattical structures such as "yfalle" as equivalent to "gefallen", so you get the idea of how the tenses work.

    But if anyone here has an easy way to learn Old English (Anglo-Saxon) [wikipedia.org] I'd be happy to know of it. I'va made a few attempts, but so far I've found it a bit impenetrable.
  • Re:Newspaper (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tony Hoyle (11698) <tmh@nodomain.org> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:50PM (#29455147) Homepage

    Newspapers are supposed to be written by professional journalists with professional standards. The articles those journalists write are then supposed to be edited by editors with years, if not decades, of experience.

    How's that mythical land you're inhabiting?

    Professional journalists are just better at googling.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:51PM (#29455153)

    Maybe people in other countries are just as stupid, but in most other countries that matter they don't use juries so he can be excused for omitting them.
    And jury of your peers means exactly what he thinks it means. The original definition in common law was a group of people from the same community, so that they would have the same kind of moral standards, background knowledge, and so on and so forth, the rationale being that to judge someone you have to be able to put yourself in his position. Applying this to the case of an IT trial, the jury will not be able to understand the case, to the point where they generally won't even understand that they don't understand the case. In other words, the image of the case they are getting will often be a fantasy, and this is where they will be basing their judgement upon, in the process also oblivious to the moral consequences that some areas of the background knowledge that the accusing party and the defending party have and the jury doesn't, would have.

  • by jcnnghm (538570) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:52PM (#29455169)

    Yes we wouldn't want anyone to color anyone's perception of any facts, of law or of the circumstances of the case, would we?

    No, we wouldn't. You don't want public opinion and emotion getting in the way of the facts.

    No wait, that is what the attorneys are doing and I expect news bans and Google bans are lawyers attempting to protect their income streams.

    You really believe it would be better if trials were left to popular public opinion?

    You see, the whole idea of "law" was supposed to be for a code to bind a society together by making every member capable of some action affecting others to follow a simple set of clear rules, which, again by definition, were to be simple enough to be memorized in entirety by everyone. That is why Hammurabi had the thing carved in stone and placed at public squares, so that "ignorance of the law" was not an excuse for breaking it.

    That's a great example, but not in the way that you think. The Hammurabi code didn't really work that well in practice. It turns out, it's really not that simple. You can't just build a state machine, input what happened, and output punishment. For example, do you see the difference between a woman that kills her abusive husband in the heat of the moment, and someone that abducts, tortures, and murders a random person. Our modern system is designed to deal with things like degree and severity, and adapt as times change. Lot's of laws have subjective terminology, like "reasonable", that's designed to change as people change. That's why we have lawyers.

    The moment however when the "law" becomes so complicated and ambiguous that it requires someone to "interpret it" (i.e. twist it to whatever whim of the moment is fanciful) the whole concept breaks. In short a society which needs lawyers, is by definition lawless, as "law" has morphed from the universal code of conduct to a byzantine, convoluted, religious scripture which requires a career priesthood to worship, massage, "interpret" and twist to the needs of whatever power caste is running the place at the time. The average denizen then simply becomes hapless prey for this caste of parasites with no recourse but to prostate himself/herself before the high-priests of "law" who hold the strings of the citizen's life or death in their hands.

    You're being hypocritical here. You're pontificating about the law being turned into a religion. You need people to interpret and argue because things are never as simple as you'd like them to be. You need to be able to balance contradictory ideals. A great example of this is defamation law. To balance first amendment rights and the public's "right to know", there is a different standard for public figures than there is for everyone else. In order to win a defamation case, the public figure must prove actual malice, that the person knew what they were saying wasn't true, and said it to hurt the public figure, maliciously. You need to be able to argue, and then have an impartial group of people, not swayed by public opinion, weight the arguments and make a decision.

    Ultimately, in a country of lawyers, by lawyers and for lawyers, the laws become such a sick caricature of the original idea that no one knows the "law" to its full extent, including all of its priests. One can test this simple supposition by simply asking any one of them to recite the "law" of the land from memory. In the USA, not only no lawyer, judge or politician could do it (even though the "law" is supposedly binding everyone and its ignorance is "no excuse") but they would not be able to tell you what the current definitive law is at all, even when given the ability to use books and databases to do it, as the code has become so byzantine that its successive layers upon layers of modifications and arcane religious language are so completely unmanageable that pretty much any "legal" decision needs an arbitrary "interp

  • by pluther (647209) <pluther@@@usa...net> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:52PM (#29455171) Homepage

    I agree!

    Those damn intellectuals, ruining everything with their thinking and their logic, and making decisions based on evidence.

    And, even worse, our schools are full of intellectual types trying to convince kids that book-learnin' is important, and that scientific method works.

    Bring on the less intelligent, wholesome, family-oriented Real(tm) Americans(tm) who can just Know things without having to spend all that time worrying and checking out whether what the Know is "correct".

  • Re:Just confused? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pdabbadabba (720526) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @12:55PM (#29455211) Homepage

    Well, it turns out that plain english is not always as precise as it needs to be for the formulation of laws and legal principles. Witness, for example, the amount of legal scholarship that has gone into figuring out how we ought to define words like "reasonable" and "intent."

    Law is a profession, and like any other complicated and substantive profession it has its own vocabulary. In a well run courtroom, the legalese will be reserved for arguing points of law in front of the judge - points that the jury isn't supposed to be concerned with. Then, when trying to establish the actual facts of the case, a lawyer ought to speak in a way the jury understands. He fails to do this at his own peril.

    Of course, there are a lot of crappy lawyers out there, so I'm sure juries often do get confused by issues that they are not supposed to be deciding in the first place. When this happens they should ask the judge for clarification.

    Allowing juries to taint themselves by giving them internet access during deliberations is probably one of the worst possible solutions to this problem.

  • by netsavior (627338) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:05PM (#29455343)
    I cannot tell if this is supposed to be a joke or not.
    So, you are using a 14th century Chaucer work to demonstrate how language needs to be PRESERVED, so we can view a 16th century Shakespeare work... When both men were the progenitors of modern English?
    I guess Chaucer should have used spell check? I guess nobody in the whole world has read Chaucer? Or what about all those pesky words Shakespeare made up, misspelled (sometimes intentionally to rhyme or to properly stick to pentameter), or Anglicized words (HelsingÃr = Elsinore anyone? -- by the way Elsinore passes firefox's spellchecker, but the actual name HelsingÃr (or Helsingor) does not...)

    Shakespeare was great because he told old stories in a new language... He invented the language as he went along. English belongs to Shakespeare because he did not let scholastic jackassitude dictate how he could use the language.

    Language belongs to those who write, and write interesting things... Language does not belong to nit-pickey grammar slaves, or the stuck up high-society high-horse education snobs... The languages that did, promptly died after said snobs fell from power.
  • Re:Just confused? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mini me (132455) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:17PM (#29455553)

    Considering that the jury are bound by the legalese in their every day life, I would hope they understand it to the letter. If they do happen to encounter something they are not familiar with during the trial, it should be encouraged for them to become more familiar with what is going on. It is their duty as a citizen to know and understand the law, after all.

    Ignorance of legalese is not required to judge trials on fact alone. It is quite easy for a normally functioning brain to separate the two concepts.

  • by Hyppy (74366) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:18PM (#29455567)

    Bullshit. American are not stupid. No more then any other country.

    Considering the average American's lack of basic understanding of science and mathematics compared to nearly every other developed country, I do not believe that your statement is accurate. Your statement is especially inaccurate in this context, where critical evaluation of scientific data is important to nearly every case involving forensic evidence.

  • by Tarsir (1175373) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:47PM (#29456021)
    Bear in mind, the rules of evidence also prevent the cops from beating you for 6 hours until you confess, then calling it a day. It always surprises me how quickly slashdotters jump to the conclusion that there is some kind of Illuminati-style conspiracy guiding all manner of phenomena, from court cases, to stock prices. It gives the comment above, wherein the poster claimed that most non-CS and IT people were too stupid to sort fact from fantasy, a certain irony.
  • by goodmanj (234846) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:32PM (#29456827)

    IANAL, but I served on a jury last summer, and I think the "CSI Effect" is a nice counterbalance to the "Cops are Gods Effect". In the past, jurors accepted any evidence presented by police officers as unambiguous and unquestionable... and DNA evidence especially was treated like a stone tablet handed down from God himself.

    Partly as a result of CSI, people now understand that there's good police work and bad police work, and DNA evidence isn't as ironclad as the prosecutor claims.

    Case in point: in the trial I served on, the police gathered the DNA evidence in a used paper shopping bag after the item had sat around in the alleged victim's house for a couple days. The item had a mixture of at least four different peoples' DNA on it. The defendant's DNA did match, but the odds that any random person on the street would also match were 1 in 20; the odds that a random person of the defendant's ethnicity would match were 1 in 10 or less.

    The jury considered that a reasonable doubt.

  • Re:Just confused? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:40PM (#29457011) Journal

    Yes. That is also why jurors are not supposed to reach decisions on matters of law, only matters of fact. If the jury members need to understand the legalese someone is doing something wrong.

    Actually, Juries CAN decide the matters of law, it is just frowned upon. It is called Jury Nullification, where a jury, despite of the facts, simply ignores the law.

    Honestly, a lot of our really bad laws can be and should be nullified by juries, and until we get widespread informed juries, bad laws will continue to be enforced.

  • by SonicSpike (242293) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:44PM (#29457071) Homepage Journal

    Actually this is incorrect. Jurors are supposed to try the facts, AND, the law. Why? Because if the law is unjust, then it should not be upheld. You should research something called jury nullification. Here is a good place to start-- http://www.fija.org/ [fija.org]

  • by NormalVisual (565491) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @03:12PM (#29457463)
    For example, the prosecution is not allowed to make up completely fictitious shit just for fun, and present it to the jury in an attempt to sway their opinion.

    That didn't stop Mike Nifong before he'd seriously disrupted the lives of the people he attempted to ruin, and before it cost them thousands and thousands of dollars. He got caught - how many haven't?
  • by Richard W.M. Jones (591125) <rich@NoSpAm.annexia.org> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @05:37PM (#29459371) Homepage

    Bill Clinton issued pardons on far worse offenses as political rewards

    TBH I never understood why the US puts up with presidential pardons. Why on earth can the president pardon someone and how is that different from having a King?

    Rich.

  • by TrekkieGod (627867) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @05:55PM (#29459553) Homepage Journal

    This cuts both ways. Juries are also free to ignore a just law. Juries made heavy use of this power in the South from the end of the Civil War up until rather late in the 20th century, to convict black defendants who should have been acquitted, and to acquit white defendants who should have been convicted.

    I've always believed what you described is not a fault of Jury Nullification, but rather a symptom of what happens when you're not being tried by a jury of your peers. If the jury had included blacks as well, that wouldn't have been a problem.

    Proponents of nullification often overlook the problems with it. For instance, it violates the principle that all should be equal before the law. If X and Y commit the same acts, and are both charged under the same law (a law that most think is OK, but, say 10% oppose), and X is convicted but Y is acquitted because by chance he got one of th 10% on his jury, that's pretty damn unjust for X.

    It's true that this is very unjust for X, but it's just as unjust to convict Y for breaking an unjust law simply because someone else was also convicted of said unjust law. In the end, a jury system depends on the interpretation of the jury at hand. There's always a chance the verdict could go another way if you have a different jury, which is why jury selection is such a big deal.

    If a law is unjust in general, that can be dealt with through the legislative process, and if the legislature won't act, it can dealt with by electing better legislators, and if that doesn't work, the referendum process can be used. Where nullification is appropriate is when you have a law that is find almost all the time, but due to a unique set of circumstances, it would be unjust to follow it in a particular case.

    A law should most definitely be dealt with through the legislative process, but until that is resolved, there's no excuse to letting someone pay for a law that should not be in the books. The idea of checks and balances in our government is an important one, and refusing to enforce a law is a judiciary check on the legislative branch.

  • by GlenRaphael (8539) on Friday September 18, 2009 @09:10AM (#29465285) Homepage
    Yes, there are "certain norms and procedures", but they change over time.

    The idea that jurors need to be entirely ignorant of the case is a relatively recent invention and arguably a bad idea. If you go back to a time when people lived in such small towns that everybody was likely to know everybody, you find a different notion: that it was good for jurors to know not just the facts but the people involved, because already knowing a witness made it easier to accurately judge the credibility of that person. Turning courts into fact-free zones like they are today makes lawyers and judges more powerful but it's not clear it produces better verdicts.

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