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Judge Declares Mistrial Because of Wikipedia 558

Posted by timothy
from the jury-nullification dept.
Pickens writes "The Palm Beach Post reports that a police officer convicted of drugging and raping a family member will get a new trial because the jury forewoman brought a Wikipedia article into deliberations. Broward Circuit Judge Stanton Kaplan declared a mistrial after Fay Mason admitted in court that she had downloaded information about 'rape trauma syndrome' and sexual assault from Wikipedia and brought it to the jury room. 'I didn't read about the case in the newspaper or watch anything on TV,' says Mason. 'To me, I was just looking up a phrase.' Judge Kaplan called all six jurors into the courtroom and explained that Mason had unintentionally tainted their verdict and endangered the officer's right to a fair trial. Mason does not face any penalties for her actions."
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Judge Declares Mistrial Because of Wikipedia

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  • Re:wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chemicaldave (1776600) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:14AM (#34586008)

    So only an ignorant Jury is a fair one?

    The justice system is not a joke. If I was on trial I sure as hell wouldn't want the jury looking things up on wikipedia. As accurate as wikipedia is as a whole, there are still articles that are biased, incomplete, lack citations or any combination of those.

  • Re:wow... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:17AM (#34586034)
    No, but a Wikipedia page could potentially have been modified by the prosecutor or the defense. IANAL, but perhaps if the juror had brought in a volume of Encyclopedia Britannica, things would be different.
  • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:25AM (#34586078)
    How can an encyclopedia taint a verdict? Isn't it the task of a court to understand the vocabulary used in a trial?

    The definition of 'rape' in a Wikipedia article may not be the same as what is on the Florida books. And they had been instructed, as is usual, not to do any research on their own.
  • Re:wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fishexe (168879) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:25AM (#34586082) Homepage

    So only an ignorant Jury is a fair one?

    No, only a jury that follows the rules is a fair one. If you have a question or need more clarification on terminology, you ask the judge. The judge then takes responsibility for making sure the information you get is reliable, rather than some shit you found on the internet.

  • by Viol8 (599362) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:25AM (#34586084)

    "If I was on trial I sure as hell wouldn't want the jury looking things up on wikipedia"

    Well I'd prefer them doing some research rather than being a clueless bunch of fucks who make their decision about my freedom based on a hunch.

  • by GooberToo (74388) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:27AM (#34586102)

    You're not supposed to look at any of those; you're only supposed to use the information given to you in court.

    My understanding is that's not correct. You are only supposed to use the facts of the case as presented in court. Learning about terminology and/or phraseology used in the court, AFAIK, shouldn't cause a mistrial.

    As someone else pointed out, Wikipedia is well known for incorrect information but I'm not really sure how that differs from someone walking about with an already incorrect and/or incomplete and/or complete ignorance of the definition/phrase/terminology.

    But ultimately, judges are emperors of their own kingdom so they frequently get latitude to create their own rules. I have no idea of this is one of those situations or not.

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:28AM (#34586120) Homepage

    So it's like the other guy said. The entire system is rigged to make sure the jury is completely ignorant.

    Ensuring that the jury can't call bullshit on some bit of rhetoric or evidence is not justice.

  • by kevinNCSU (1531307) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:31AM (#34586146)
    No, one would prefer a jury be informed by the testimony of an expert witness who has been accepted by the court as having credentials and experience in the field and not a bunch of guys int heir basements edit-warring over an article or page on a subject they have no direct research experience in.
  • by Aqualung812 (959532) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:33AM (#34586160)

    Well I'd prefer them doing some research rather than being a clueless bunch of fucks who make their decision about my freedom based on a hunch.

    No, I want my defense team educating the jury rather than an anonymous edit on Wikipedia. I would also expect the prosecution to be fact-checking everything my defense team says, and the reverse would also be true.

    This way, the only things that the jury learns are things that both sides agree are facts. Or, if it is something that is in disagreement, the jury learns that something is not a fact, but a point that one side says is true while the other side says it is false. This is core to the American justice system.

    If they had to look something up on Wikipedia, then the defense team did a poor job. Thankfully, the justice system accounts for this & allows me to appeal with a new defense team.

  • Re:wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DRJlaw (946416) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:42AM (#34586244)

    I've posted this before, but it bears repeating:

    If you are a defendant in a criminal case, do you want the evidence brought against you, the interpretation of the law that is being applied against you, and any questions that the jury cannot decide for themselves based that evidence and interpretation to be available in an accurate record that you can cite in an appeal, or in a juror's cellphone browser history that walks out the door and never sees the light of day?

    Yes, it is a loaded question, because if you had any experience with the legal system, you'd know that details like the rules of evidence, jury instructions, and the trial judge's handling of jury questions/special verdicts are critical in the attempt to ensure that jurors make decisions based on reliable and complete information in accordance with the law of that jurisdiction.

    Wikipedia's definition of the terms, even if generally accurate, will not reflect the statutes and judicial interpretations that apply in any particular jurisdiction. I will guarantee that the jury was given an explanation of the concepts applicable to the case in that jurisdiction either during the oral instructions, in a written version of those instructions, or by both methods. The lawyers and the judge went over those instructions carefully to ensure that they were correct, because if they were not that's a potential issue for reversal on appeal, even ignoring the fact that at least the judge wants the jury to make a decision on proper grounds in the first place. Any additional information that the jury needs is supposed to go through the same vetting process, and be recorded in a written record, to in order to increase the odds of justice being done both with respect to society and any individual defendant.

    The Wikipedia information that the juror brought into deliberations wasn't going to appear in the trial record. So what would happen if it was wrong?

  • Re:What? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gander666 (723553) * on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:46AM (#34586282) Homepage

    How can an encyclopedia taint a verdict? Isn't it the task of a court to understand the vocabulary used in a trial? And what would have happened when had read the article before the trial? Or even before the accused has done anything? However, I do not understand that jury concept in all aspects. As we normally only use two jurors beside one or more judges. And the jurors get prior training before working as jurors. But I know that is a little different in the Anglo-Saxon world.

    If during the voir dire portion of the jury selection, it came out that any candidate for the jury had read anything about the term (in this case 'rape trauma syndrome'), they would have been excused.

    One of the best ways to be excused from jury duty is to be well read, and be able to answer to your knowledge. It has pretty much been the reason why I have never been empaneled on a jury in my history.

    Both sides look for different characteristics, but they unanimously want people ignorant of the facts and the details of the law that will be contested.

  • by KiahZero (610862) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:55AM (#34586374)

    Declaring a mistrial here was the only effective way to guarantee the defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial, including the right to examine the evidence against him. There's quite a bit of jurisprudence on the use of expert testimony to make sure it's relable, and allowing the jury to just Google whatever they want for information just tosses that process out the door.

    Imagine you've been falsely accused of child molestation, based on the faulty science of "recovered memories." Would you want the opportunity to challenge the evidence against you through cross-examination, or would you prefer it if the jury could just pull up some article written by a quack and be swayed by it, with no chance for you or your defense to explain the basic fallacies it contained?

  • by SoTerrified (660807) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:16AM (#34586604)

    So it's like the other guy said. The entire system is rigged to make sure the jury is completely ignorant.

    Ensuring that the jury can't call bullshit on some bit of rhetoric or evidence is not justice.

    No, the only ignorance here is what you are displaying. The jury has the right to request clarification on a term (in this case, they used the term 'rape trauma syndrome' in the court case and a juror didn't know what it meant) and then the judge, in consultation with the prosecution and defense, will provide the jury with the definition.

    As others have mentioned, Wikipedia can often be very incorrect. But in addition when dealing with terms tied to technology or medicine, there may be many interpretations of meaning depending on who you ask. (As a programmer, I have a different definition of 'hanging process' than a lawyer does) It is important that the jury is understanding the terms used in the trial as the prosecution and defense are using them, and you can't do that with a quick hop to Wikipedia.

    That's why the jury is not supposed to be relying on outside information. If the prosecution says 'rape trauma syndrome' means butterflies and rainbows, and the defense agrees with that definition, it's utterly irrelevant to the case what the real definition is, because that's not what the prosecution and defense are talking about.

  • Re:wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Evanisincontrol (830057) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:23AM (#34586682)

    It's not about where the information comes from, it's about ensuring the defendant's right to examine the evidence against him. This is a critical part of due process, and if a juror brings outside information into the courtroom and bases their decision on it, the defendant will never have the chance to examine that information and respond to it.

    Now, before you say, "But in this case, all the juror wanted was a definition of a word!", let me propose a hypothetical situation for you. Imagine that you are on trial for rape, and one of the jurors prints out the Wikipedia article on rape. It just so happens that the revision they've printed out contains an edit by some wacko that says "Any time a person has sex and then regrets it later, then the other person raped them." Now you have a juror circulating that bogus definition of rape around the other jurors, and you never get to know about it, so you never have the chance to tell the jury, "Whoa whoa, that isn't a legally accurate statement, and here's why." If the jurors had been forced to request such information from the judge, then even if the judge was stupid enough to print out a wikipedia article to define rape (which (s)he wouldn't), at least the defendant would know about it and could challenge it or bring it up to the jury.

  • by hymie! (95907) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:48AM (#34587028)

    And what if no side called such a witness?

    Assuming we're talking about a criminal trial, then you find "not guilty". It's the prosecution's job to prove the case. If they didn't, then they lose.

    A civil trial is less cut-and-dry, but the same basic rule holds -- the plaintiff needs to prove his case. If he doesn't, then he doesn't win.

    If they falsely assumed I have a clue while I don't?

    Your lack of clue is actually part of your oath as a juror, to only consider the evidence provided to you in the courtroom by the lawyers under the observation of the judge. If they falsely assume you have a clue when you don't, that is their problem.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:52AM (#34587084) Journal

    Imagine you've been falsely accused of child molestation based on the fault science of "recovered memories". The judge considers this settled science, so your defense team cannot question the scientific basis of the evidence. (This happens all the time with fingerprints). Wouldn't you want the jury to be able to do some research on their own to discover that recovered memories are a load of shit?

  • Re:Personally... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:03AM (#34587270) Homepage Journal

    This is actually a non-story. You just can't DO that, in ANY court. No newspapers, encyclopedias, nothing like that. Thanks to that one dumb juror, Broward County just wasted a lot of taxpayers' money.

    I guess you have to partially fault whoever gives instructions to the jurors, as well.

  • Re:Personally... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2NO@SPAMgdargaud.net> on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:17AM (#34587488) Homepage

    This is actually a non-story. You just can't DO that, in ANY court. No newspapers, encyclopedias, nothing like that. Thanks to that one dumb juror, Broward County just wasted a lot of taxpayers' money.
    I guess you have to partially fault whoever gives instructions to the jurors, as well.

    So what ? Are you supposed to be ignorant as to what a 'rape' is when you get into a jury ? Maybe ignore what the meaning of 'is' is ? What about knowing english ? If you feel like there is something you ought to know, while on jury duty or not, it PERFECTLY NORMAL to want to check it out, be it on the internet, on a dictionary, asking your neighbors or any other way. To think otherwise is obtuse, dumb and retrograde.
    If juries want to select only people who are ignorant, then don't be surprised when they award money to McDonald hot coffee defendants.

  • by macraig (621737) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (giarc.a.kram)> on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:19AM (#34587532)

    ... why didn't you just say so and be excused from the process?

    That's precisely what I did (my shortest stint ever), BUT I couldn't even make that decision in the complete absence of information that the judge imposed. That was my point: the judge was preventing an INFORMED affirmation.

  • Re:Well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jbolden (176878) on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:20AM (#34587534) Homepage

    They are not allowed to look up material about the case. The definition of a term in general may or may not be about the case. That's a complex question of law. Say for example this rape occurred on an "Ottoman" and a juror looked up what that word meant...

    Frankly I think the judge over reacted by declaring a mistrial.

  • Re:Personally... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jtdennis (77869) <oyr249m02.sneakemail@com> on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:25AM (#34587618) Homepage

    Jurors are supposed to ask the Judge if they are unclear on a definition or term used. The Judge will decide what outside information is acceptable. This was a mistrial because the Juror went out on her own to find the information rather than through the proper channels.

  • Re:Personally... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dreamchaser (49529) on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:33AM (#34587746) Homepage Journal

    Yep, and juries can also request more information, research material, or clarification from the court. Wikipedia didn't cause this mistrial. A dumbass juror who broke the rules did.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:55AM (#34588098) Journal

    The fear of having evidence excluded is probably a lot more effective as a deterrent for bad cops than the (non)risk of eventual prosecution if caught doing something illegal.

    The fear of having evidence excluded is no deterrent at all. If you don't do an illegal search there is only one possibility, you will have no evidence. If you do the illegal search, there's at least a chance of getting the evidence admitted. Without a real punishment for cops when they break the law, there is no deterrent for illegal searches.

  • Re:Personally... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alva_edison (630431) <ThAlEdison@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Friday December 17, 2010 @11:39AM (#34588764)
    You are normally asked whether you know that type of information (although they might go too broad and ask if you're a doctor, instead of asking if you have knowledge of rape trauma). If you do, you are normally dismissed. If this does not happen, that's the fault of the lawyers. This is true for most types of technical knowledge related to a case.
  • Re:Well (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 17, 2010 @01:50PM (#34590590)

    It's not at all retarded. It's to protect people from being convicted on bad information, and to make sure your constitutional right to challenge your accusers is preserved. If I write an article about how Carewolf kills people, and you end up in court accused of murder, the sixth amendment guarantees you the chance to confront your accuser and review and challenge the evidence against you. You deserve a chance to defend yourself. How can you if the jury goes off and digs up my crazy article on their own, without even mentioning to the defense, prosecution, or judge that they did so? You wouldn't even know why on earth they thought you killed people, and would have no chance to rebut my insane accusations. This is why the available information has to come through the courtroom and not jurors going off and digging up stuff on their own.

    In short, your knee-jerk reaction to something you just heard about is *not* smarter than the careful conclusions of reasoned people who put a lot of actual thought into coming up with this system, and you should quit thinking of yourself as above the law.

  • Re:Personally... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kalirion (728907) on Friday December 17, 2010 @06:12PM (#34594300)

    No. You want a jury of your peers, people like you.

    If you're on trial for hacking and they weed out all the programmers from the jury, how the hell is that a "jury of your peers"?

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..." -- Isaac Asimov

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