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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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  • Just confused? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hansamurai (907719) <hansamurai@gmail.com> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @10:34AM (#29453967) Homepage Journal

    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?

  • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @10:41AM (#29454069)

    IANAL, but my cousin is and her husband is a police officer, and one of her biggest complaints is that jurors are now expecting evidence to be collected and more importantly processed along the lines of the tv show CSI. Where DNA results are turned around in an hour and even bullets collected in the pouring rain can still be matched to a national gunpowder manufacturer database.

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @10:42AM (#29454087) Homepage

    The law hates jurors in the first place - all those non-professionals who evaluate things in terms of right and wrong and not on the pure bases of compliance with appropriate legal loopholes.

    It seems like the modern court system starts with the assumption that jurors only mess things up. Then it has rules of evidence so that the jury is given precisely the right information so that they reach the "appropriate" conclusion.

    I understand the issues with expert testimony and all that. IMHO some kinds of expert decisions probably shouldn't be made by a jury at all (whether a given product did or didn't cause an injury, for example). However, the solution isn't to leave it up to a jury but to filter information to such an extent that they're forced to come up with the "right" decision. If you want to take the decision away from the jury, just do it!

  • Nutty Judges... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @10:43AM (#29454101) Homepage

    Last time I was sitting on a jury they took all our phones and PDA's. No electronic devices allowed.

    What nutty judges are allowing the jurors to even have their phones on them? so they can be googling while sitting there? Although unless you are sequestered, you can go home and google everything you heard that day...

  • Re:Just confused? (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 17, 2009 @10:49AM (#29454189)

    The courts should have good references available about legal terms and laws. Of course even these can be interpreted differently, so really the jurors should be able to ask a question and have both sides respond to the question openly. I don't know how they currently do this, but it might be helpful to have a wikilaw-like resource that the jurors would have access to, so they could read up a bit on law. But does a trial by jury necessarily require the jurors to understand the law? I think that is kind of why we have jury trials, so that the accused can be judged by the common sense at the time. But I could be really wrong about that.

  • Re:Just confused? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 17, 2009 @10:51AM (#29454237)

    I think if you'd ever been on a jury you would know that trial attorneys typically dumb down arguments and presentations to a level that would shock most slashdotters (e.g., "if the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit.") IAAL and it's sad to reduce complex (and interesting) technical issues into baby talk so 8 unemployed people from the mall can pick a winner in a million dollar business dispute.

  • Re:Heaven forbid... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @10:54AM (#29454271) Journal

    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. :)

    I don't know why this is on a lighter note; this is a real problem. People on juries are people with a strong sense of social responsibility and people too stupid to get out of it. You can probably guess the ratio of the former to the latter. Given how important a functioning judiciary is to society, jury service really ought to be better rewarded, so competent people don't have such a strong incentive to get out of it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 17, 2009 @10:57AM (#29454315)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Rosenthal

    You should always search the internet for what your case is really about. Ed was convicted by a jury that followed the judges direction and was uninformed. 5 of them recanted and called a press conference as soon as they read that his defense team had been completely gagged, unable to present that Ed had been working for the city of Oakland as a medical marijuanna grower.

    You should trust yourself to make informed decisions, and not leave it up to some random judge, who most likely *will* side with the government (they appointed him afterall). Our founders created juries so we could defend ourselves against tyranny and injustice. They didn't mean for you to be guilty of it too.

  • by uffe_nordholm (1187961) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @10:57AM (#29454321)
    There is an easy way around this: let the jurors ask questions to any witness they like, and demand clarification of any facts they need explained in more detail. And let them do this at any time before delivering their verdict, be it while the witness is still in the stand or much later.

    Since both the DA and defence council are obviously biased one way or the other, letting the jury do some fact-finding of their own seems reasonable to me. (Caveat: I live in a country that does not use a jury system, so my proposal might entail problems I cannot forsee. Instead of a jury, Sweden has a system in which volunteers are elected to serve in four year periods. All courts are presided over by a judge, who obviously has legal training, but the other people needn't have it).
  • by DarrenBaker (322210) <darren@nOSpAm.flim.net> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:02AM (#29454403) Homepage

    I'll take twelve less-intelligent peers than one intellectual elected official any day.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:22AM (#29454689)

    Some years ago I opted for jury duty for a civil case because it was going to be more interesting than work.

    It was a personal injury case where the defendant had already been stupid enough to admit fault (so it was only figuring how much he was going to be reamed) with a plaintiff that already had spinal nerve damage which may or may not have been made worse by an auto accident (Which by the description the plaintiff was partially at fault and the damn thing shouldn't have gotten to court in the first place).
    At that point I was fairly biased to "Both the idiots need to be punished."
    Everyone there that actually worked for a living was of the same mindset and we would have loved to know
    1) Whether the defendant's lawyer was being paid a percentage based on avoiding the expected payout.
    2) What percentage the plaintiff's lawyer was being paid for a win in their favor
    3) How much the quack was being paid for his deposition
    so we could figure out a paltry amount that would screw all the lawyers.

    Here's the other factor. Even though those of us that actually worked for a living were the majority, we rolled with the non-working idiot that kept shrilling "He's entitled" so we could get the hell out of there and go back to work.

    Lessons learned,
    1) always carry insurance for personal injury.
    2) "accidentally" driving over the plaintiff would have worked out better for everyone.

  • Re:Heaven forbid... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CannonballHead (842625) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:23AM (#29454693)

    jury service really ought to be better rewarded

    That way, we can have people wanting to do jury service to get rich, hang all those "social responsibility" and "right and wrong" and "justice" notions.

    Not sure "money" (or reward, whatever) is the answer to getting a "smart" and "just" jury...

    Unfortunately, it does seem that the jury system was set up in a different era and maybe the general outlook, priorities, and "morals" or ethics were different.

    Now, it seems that most people simply don't care ... about really anything. People get far more upset about dying in an online RPG than reading about a real person getting murdered.

  • by clintp (5169) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @11:35AM (#29454899)

    1. You've just opened the door to a police state. No thanks. Besides, the crime isn't "excused" but evidence that might be used to convict is ruled inadmissible. Use different evidence, that's all.

    2. The rub is this: "officers who..." For an illegal wiretap, who's culpable? The technician who installed it? The officer who listened? The commanding officer who ordered the tap? The judge who signed the warrant that was later invalidated? Who gets charged?

          And then what jury would convict them? If an officer is charged with illegally obtaining evidence that catches a serial child rapist murderer, can you honestly see a panel of jurors sending him to prison? Really? They'd set him free or slap him on the wrist.

    This is why there are rules of evidence and defendants have the rights they do, to prevent decay into a lawless police state.

  • by shoor (33382) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:03PM (#29456275)

    Just last week I was summoned for jury duty. This is maybe the 5th time I've been called up. Each time I was part of a pool of potential jurors. Roll would be taken, then names, presumably at random, would be called to fill the jury box plus extras. These would be examined and various people rejected and new ones called up till they had a jury plus alternates. So far, I've never even been called up to be examined. But this last time, unusually, it took 3 days for a jury to be selected, and the judge kept admonishing us not to twitter or google him or the lawyers or try to find out anything about the case even when we were being selected. On the 2nd or 3rd day he even said it had come to his attention that some of us were texting during the selection process and he said if we were caught doing that the cell phone or whatever would be taken away from us.

    Once I remember I was in a conversation with 4 or 5 other people, one of whom happened to be a lawyer, and the subject of some fairly famous case came up, though I don't remember which one now, but apparently people were surprised at the verdict rendered by the jury. The lawyer said that when that happened he'd be inclined to go with the jury because they would be presented with all the evidence, while everyone else would see slanted opinions and speculation in the papers. This was back in the 1980s by the way. Maybe things have changed since then. I understand there was a lawyer who became famous for perfecting the science of jury selection. I found out about her when I happened to read her obituary in the paper (she had died of cancer I believe). I don't remember her name.

    In some of the past cases where I was in the jury pool I could tell people were deliberately saying things to get themselves rejected but generally I thought potential jurors were thoughtful and honest during the selection process. Maybe just showing up was enough to indicate you were ready to do your civic duty.

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

    by jburroug (45317) <slashdot&acerbic,org> on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:24PM (#29456685) Homepage Journal

    I've always maintained that if I'm ever falsely accused of a crime then I would waive my right to a jury trial and go with a judge. While not exactly perfect I figure a judge will be a lot harder to sway with over the top, scare mongering arguments that the DA might prefer to use on a jury. However if I'm actually a guilty, hell yeah I want a jury trial! Again figure the judge will see through some bullshit but with a jury of my nominal peers I'm willing to give the Chewbaca defense a shot or whatever else my attorney wants to try to trick, confuse, browbeat or scare them into acquitting me.

    Cheers,

  • Re:Just confused? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mea37 (1201159) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @01:38PM (#29456955)

    And to me, that's a sign that we're doing it wrong.

    Juries are indeed told that they are the finders of fact, yet they are the ones who are asked to make a statement about which crime(s), if any, were committed. In most cases, what they say determines the defendant's fate; hence (among other things) you get prospective jurors citing religious reasons that they are not comfortable "sitting in judgement over another human" when, if the system were set up properly, nobody would be asking them to do any such thing.

    (Yes, I'm aware that in many - perhaps most - cases those people are just making an excuse to get out of jury duty, knowing that even if the court shoots them down the prosecutor won't want to keep them around. That is beside the point.)

    Rather than give the jury complex instructions and ask them for a "yes or no" on the specific legal counts, why not have the court provide them a list of questions about the facts, sans legal language, and let the judge apply the law to the answers they provide?

  • by bravo369 (853579) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:13PM (#29457469)
    I served on a jury for a drug case. It ended up in plea bargain by the 2nd day but we found out afterwards that the guy had 9 priors for drug possession and dealing. That would have been nice to know but of course it was never brought up. You can't dispute facts. I don't think it would sway me as long as the facts back up the accusation the whole process really opened my eyes that the jury system needs some revamping. Everyone claimed financial hardships or that they have babies/elderly to take care of so all that was left on the jury was people in good jobs or retired. they wouldn't let us take notes either and many don't. that's a problem to me. I may have a question or something strikes me as a half-truth but i can forget it by the end. juries should be able to ask questions of the witnesses and some states allow it, others don't. I also feel the accused should HAVE to take the stand. if they want to plead the fifth then let them do that on the stand but let the jury hear the questions from the defense and prosecution along with the answers/half answers/pleading the 5th.
  • Google is tempting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by brusk (135896) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:16PM (#29457521)
    Earlier this year I was a juror in a civil trial about a slip-and-fall in a parking lot. Simple stuff, nothing that would have been in the paper, but the case related to the layout of the parking lot where the accident occurred, and it was very tempting to look at the satellite photos on Google Maps (I did so after the trial). I would bet that most cases are like this: relatively few would make it into the media, but for many some potentially relevant information is out there, and requires zero effort to find.
  • Re:Just confused? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dhalka226 (559740) on Friday September 18, 2009 @12:20AM (#29462795)

    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.

    Ehh, sorta. From what research I've done, "jury nullification" is more a byproduct of the fact that "no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States" (7th Amendment) and the protection against being tried again for the same crime once you're found innocent (5th Amendment).

    In other words, once a jury finds a person innocent it doesn't matter at all why they did it. Hell, they could all have been bribed and their decision would still stand (though they and the people who paid them may all be subject to prosecution themselves). In that sense, yes, "I don't approve of the law" is going to hold up.

    The most recent court decisions on the matter basically go like this: Yes, you can do it, because we can't stop you. But yes, if anybody tells you that you can do it the judge can declare a mistrial. And yes, if the judge believes you're going to do it he can throw you off the jury pre-emptively (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_nullification#United_States). Presumably, if you brought it up in the jury room and the judge found out he could also declare a mistrial at that point, though I've not seen any specific evidence for or against that assumption.

    So, yeah, it exists, but I wouldn't agree with those who call it a right. It's a byproduct of our system that the courts really don't want you to have or to exercise, they just can't really stop you.

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