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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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  • wow... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Yaa 101 (664725) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:10AM (#34585996) Journal

    So only an ignorant Jury is a fair one?

  • Or... (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:34AM (#34586172)

    perhaps if the juror had brought in a volume of Encyclopedia Britannica, things would be different.

    Or if the defendant was not a police officer.
    Or if his lawyer wasn't just elected to a position of a judge.

    On Wednesday, the judge lowered Olenchak's bond from $100,000 to $35,000 and ordered him to turn in his passport within 30 days. Olenchak has been in jail since the jury delivered its verdict on Dec. 2, but relatives are working on posting bond.

    Olenchak also will have to hire a new defense attorney. John Fry, who represented him at trial, won election in November as a county court judge and will be sworn in on Jan. 4.

  • Right thing to do. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MentlFlos (7345) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:44AM (#34586262) Homepage
    I just finished jury duty so this is all fresh in my mind. The jurors job is to determine if the evidence presented shows that the defendant violated specific laws. The judge lets you know specifically what the laws are and explains what they mean if it is too cryptic for a non-lawyer to understand. In the case I was in it basically meant that all 6 of us were used as human lie detectors to see which witnesses were the most truthful. We were encouraged to ask questions if anything was unclear about the law, evidence or charges. Outside interpretations would have tainted the whole thing.
  • Re:wow... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rolfwind (528248) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:47AM (#34586292)

    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.

    Um, yeah, that's assuming the rules are fair and those administering it are fair. More often than not, they treat juries more and more like caged tourists, to be shepherded around and shown only the correct sites and the real stuff hidden in the background. This applies to jury selection and why judges and prosecute flip out at the phrase "jury nullification" because it shows a modicum of thought independent of the system.

    Sometimes, instead of trying to pick out a most sterile jury possible, I wonder if a random selection of the available pool, sort of like /. mod selection, would be preferable. I also have to wonder about jury deliberation though, too much group dynamics and peer pressure... just as an experiment, it would be fun to put two jury boxes of 5 or 7 people on opposite sides of the room -- so the lawyers can't play up their drama as much as if they had a single unified audience and if at the end of the trial, both juries come to the same conclusion, that is the verdict. Different levels of crime would require the simple majority within both juries, some a super majority, and some unanimous.

  • by Stele (9443) on Friday December 17, 2010 @08:51AM (#34586336) Homepage

    I've served twice. If something came up we wanted more information on, we'd ask the bailiff, during a break, and he/she would pass the request on to the judge, and the judge would address it in some way, either with a description or by bringing someone in.

    In my first trial, they had brought in a piece of defective equipment as evidence. During a break we felt that we should have a better look at it, so we asked, and were then allowed to go right up to it to inspect it in detail. This up-close inspection allowed us to come to a decision quicker.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:31AM (#34586802) Journal

    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.

    Isn't the entire point of a jury to decide what is fact and what is not? A juror that has the wherewithal to do his own research is going to be better prepared to do that.

    The real reason juries aren't allowed to do their own research is because controlling the fact presented to the jury is one of the few ways the judge can control the jury. Judges will even exclude fact, that both sides agree are facts, because it might lead the jury to make a decision the judge disapproves of.

    Sure, they dress it up as fairness. As if the truth could be prejudicial. If that were actually the case, we'd have judges ruling on what sort of evidence scientists can consider before they make their conclusions. No, the only way to make correct decisions is to weigh *all* the evidence.

    Consider the "Exclusionary rule". It's intended as a deterrent to keep cops from presenting evidence illegally obtained. But to enforce this rule you must have tight control over what the jury knows. But we already have a deterrent for when people break the law. Prosecute the cops who broke the law to obtain evidence and you no longer need the exclusionary rule, and so you no longer need to control what the jury knows. So you have better behaved cops, and better informed juries. It's a win for everyone.

  • by jbolden (176878) on Friday December 17, 2010 @11:05AM (#34588282) Homepage

    Because actually one of the purposes of the jury system is to act as a check on the ruling class. Refusing to uphold immoral or blatantly unconstitutional law is one of the major reasons to both having juries.

  • Re:Personally... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lymond01 (314120) on Friday December 17, 2010 @11:07AM (#34588320)

    When I served there was no such reminder of the proper channels. We were allowed to take notes, but not remove the notes from the room. Her problem, I'd imagine, having of course not read the article, was that she introduced new evidence into the case: an online definition of "rape trauma". She should have used whatever definition the lawyers gave her and if they didn't, they probably didn't for a purpose.

    Yes, our justice system is dumb. Any system of justice which relies on ignorance and acting to prove someone's innocence needs to be rethought. And that may be the understatement of the year.

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

    by Darinbob (1142669) on Friday December 17, 2010 @06:32PM (#34594586)
    The issue with looking up information away from the courtroom is that the judge, defendant and prosecutor are taken out of the loop. They have presented the evidence that they feel is appropriate, they've argued with each other about what is relevant or not, and so on. If a wikipedia article is relevant, then the attorneys and judge need to be involved in deciding this. The defendant has the right to be presented with ALL EVIDENCE against him. How can you present some rebuttal evidence that a reference article is wrong if you don't even know that the jury is secretly using outside information?

    Basically just ask the judge for the definition. One will be provided that has been vetted by both sides of the case.

    Technical knowledge about the background of a case does NOT always get someone dismissed from a jury. This is because the attorneys on both sides of the case have a chance to question these people and decide if their technical knowledge is going to taint the case or not, and during the trial they can present evidence to help persuade a juror. Even someone with knowledge of rape trauma could get on such a jury. What matters more is if either side feels you are biased because of this knowledge.

    The only jury trial I was selected for had about half the members being related to law enforcement, including a retired parole officer, despite common knowledge that such people are automatically dismissed... During selection process on other trials I have seen many people chosen for a jury that violated a lot of common knowledge about who is or isn't selected.

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