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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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  • by NMEismyNME (725242) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:05AM (#34585968)
    Will Jimmy Wales appeal?
    • Re:Personally... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday December 17, 2010 @11:03AM (#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.

  • Just using wikipedia by itself is a case for a mistrial almost... every college student should know you can't cite that thing directly.
    • by Ogive17 (691899)
      It wasn't cited, the jury foreman was unsure of a specific phrase and used wikipedia to look it up. Honest mistake. Her proper course of action probably would have been to ask the judge to provide some literature about it instead of going out on her own to get it.

      I would never cite wikipedia, but it is still an effective tool while doing research.
      • by fishexe (168879)

        It wasn't cited, the jury foreman was unsure of a specific phrase and used wikipedia to look it up. .

        Bringing it in to show to others == a form of citation.

        • by DJRumpy (1345787)

          I was recently selected for jury duty. I was informed outright that I was not to speak about the case as expected, but the judge also warned that I was not to use the internet to do any sort of research on the case, and that all questions should be passed to the bailiff.

          Why isn't this a standard procedure everywhere?

      • It has been clearly documented that citing wikipedia [wikipedia.org] can be dangerous.

    • by garcia (6573)

      It's possible that she wasn't college educated or wasn't college educated when Wikipedia was around. Remember, jury members come from all walks of life.

  • wow... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Yaa 101 (664725) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:10AM (#34585996) Journal

    So only an ignorant Jury is a fair one?

    • Re:wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by chemicaldave (1776600) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:14AM (#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.

      • by Viol8 (599362) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:25AM (#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 kevinNCSU (1531307) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:31AM (#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 Golddess (1361003)
            Having never actually served on a jury, how exactly would a juror go about learning what a phrase means if everyone was acting like it's supposed to be common knowledge? Do they just, like, raise their hand and ask?
            • by Stele (9443) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:51AM (#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 Aqualung812 (959532) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:33AM (#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.

          • by Viol8 (599362)

            Sorry , but since when are lawyers experts on every possible area? Would you trust a lawyer to give someone the inside on computer hacking? No. So the lawyers just repeat parrot fashion what they've found out from somewhere else - possibly wikipedia.

            • by rjstanford (69735)

              Sorry , but since when are lawyers experts on every possible area? Would you trust a lawyer to give someone the inside on computer hacking? No. So the lawyers just repeat parrot fashion what they've found out from somewhere else - possibly wikipedia.

              Of course not. That's why you'd hear from an expert witness [wikipedia.org], you know, someone who testifies under oath and who both the defense and the prosecution agree can speak authoritatively about the subject at hand.

          • by Hatta (162192) on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:31AM (#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 stinerman (812158)

              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.

              Ther

        • by hey! (33014)

          Here's the problem. This is a *trial*. That means any assertion that bears on the outcome can be challenged by either side either to its accuracy, relevance or interpretation.

          Suppose they jury convicts the defendant based on this wikipedia article. The defendant doesn't even *know* this has been brought into deliberations, and has no chance of challenging it.

          I've just been through this. As you deliberate, you can submit questions. These are debated in the courtroom by the prosecutor and defense attor

      • I would most definitely want a jury that was intelligent enough, and curious enough, to both desire and act on that desire to understand exactly what is being talked about in court.

        To tell the truth, I don't see how researching terms used in court, so the implications of phraseology used by lawyers during the trial are fully understood by the jurors themselves, taints a jury. That isn't irresponsible or an attempt to defeat justice. It is, in fact, just the opposite. It's an attempt to make sure justice

      • EVERYTHING has some bias, we are human.

        I hope the decision was not made just "because it came from wikipedia". I would look up the references, if the references are valid and from a trustful source (who decides that anyway), the jury decision shouldn't change, right?

      • by Nikker (749551)
        Bringing up ignorance on a subject is actually a good thing. Personally I'm worried no one else wanted clarification. The judge should have let her know that the information she looked up may not be correct and supplied the jurors with the correct information to make their decisions. On top of it all this guy was already apparently convicted so why is this even in court?
      • I assure you that our justice system is a COMPLETE joke.

        Many judges are bought and paid for, and after the OJ trial
        its obvious that justice can be paid off.

      • by moxley (895517)

        "The justice system is not a joke."

        Maybe you haven't had much firsthand experience with it, because I can assure you, it most certainly IS a joke.

        The system does not work how we learned it is supposed to work in school, nor does it work the way you see on TV.

        I went through a year long legal process over custody of my child, and I had seen friends and family have to deal with various aspects of the system. It's completely ridiculous, unfair, and not at all what the law specifies it is supposed to be.

    • Re:wow... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:17AM (#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:wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fishexe (168879) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:25AM (#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.

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

        by rolfwind (528248) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:47AM (#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 macraig (621737) <mark.a.craig@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:18AM (#34586632)

        The judge then takes responsibility for making sure the information you get is reliable, rather than some shit you found on the internet.

        That doesn't always happen. My last jury stint involved a trial with more than one defendant and an invocation of the so-called "felony murder rule". The judge wanted each jury member to affirm that they would treat the felony murder rule as Gospel, AND made this demand WITHOUT any detailed discussion of its value or history. When I specifically asked for that, the judge flatly denied my request. So I did what any freethinker would have done: during lunch I "broke the rules" using the court house's free wifi and researched the felony murder rule on my Pocket PC.

        Given my experience I'm not inclined to fault this woman for what she did, even though she was more surreptitious than I was. She likely figured the judge would have simply denied such a request, as the judge did mine. Our current juror system truly does favor ignorant valueless robots. I'm not happy at all making that observation.

    • Re:wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DRJlaw (946416) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:42AM (#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?

      • by RingDev (879105)

        Question though. The Lawyers and the Judge are what we would call 'Domain Experts'. They are intimately familiar with the laws, concepts, and issues that will be introduced to the jury. The jurors are not Domain Experts. They are lay people. They may (and often are) of less educated back grounds.

        If the judge and lawyers come up with the jury instructions as domain experts, I can say with out a doubt that the average jury will almost always have some portion of the members not understand, that forget, or rem

      • by BobMcD (601576)

        The [facts, education, and life experience] that the juror brought into deliberations wasn't going to appear in the trial record. So what would happen if it was wrong?

        That's in the design, my friend. These are SUPPOSED to be thinking people. They were never, ever, ever intended to be unthinking robots only concerned with the law. If that were the case, the jury would be selected from amongst the bar, rather than from our 'peers'.

    • As others have said, there are rules when you're on a jury. The prosecutor and defense team lay out the "facts" as they both see them. You hear from experts on both sides who detail what they think happened (in their expert opinion). Then you weigh everything. Which side produced the most convincing argument. Did the defense's expert seem more reliable than the prosecution's? Or vice versa? If you don't know what something means or need clarification on some testimony, you send a request to the judge

  • So what makes a reference acceptable? I mean even the Encyclopedia Britannica contains errors or has entries that have changed / are out of date. And even the thickest dictionary doesn't contain all the words, for some things you just have to go to urbandictionary.com. I can't image many mainstream dictionaries having entries on a Dirty Sanchez, et al. while it could come up in a court..

    In the end, I think Wikipedia should be an allowed reference source as long as _all_ (and not just from wikipedia) sources

    • by pthisis (27352)

      A juror going to Britannica or urbandictionary would be equally disallowed. The issue is that jurors aren't allowed to do research on their own, not which resources were used.

      The judge had even been explicitly reminding them of that; from TFA:
      [Judge] Kaplan reminded her that he had warned the jurors every day during the three-week trial not to do any research on their own.

      • Given the enormous amount of external information available to any juror, perhaps we will soon be forced to sequester juries more frequently, just to prevent them from doing their own research?
    • by fishexe (168879) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:22AM (#34586070) Homepage

      So what makes a reference acceptable? I mean even the Encyclopedia Britannica contains errors or has entries that have changed / are out of date.

      You're not allowed to bring Encyclopedia Britannica into jury deliberations either. No outside sources of information, that's the rule.

      In the end, I think Wikipedia should be an allowed reference source as long as _all_ (and not just from wikipedia) sources are checked by the court later on.

      The point is not accuracy, the point is to allow the court to control what evidence the jury has access to so that both sides have a fair shot at rebutting or clarifying anything that might otherwise hurt their case. The proper thing to do is for the jury to ask the judge for more information, and have the judge come up with with the encyclopedia article or other source deemed appropriate for the purposes of the trial, possibly in consultation with both the prosecution and defense.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jedidiah (1196)

        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 SoTerrified (660807) on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:16AM (#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.

      • by Shadow99_1 (86250)

        Frankly, that is just a great way to have the judge (and whatever potentially lame ideas he has on issue X) pushed on a ignorant jury.

        What if the judge thinks that 'rape trauma syndrome' is some made up condition? Or as tends to happen one side will put a 'expert' on the stand who may be full of crap about it and say whatever helps side X? Not allowing outside sources means only the aspect presented within the courtroom ever gets heard. That's like asking for bias.

        I'm not saying wikipedia is a great source

      • It wasn't about evidence either. It was about the definition of a word.
  • by prefec2 (875483)

    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.

    • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:25AM (#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.
    • Definitions when used for the purpose of law are not always the same as definitions in general speech.

      It sounds more like this comes down to jurors using external references to assist in making decisions. I would expect that jurors are instructed not to bring in external references of any type, and she did.

      • by gander666 (723553) *

        You are correct. IANAL, but look up a "Markman Hearing" and you will be astounded as to how much court time is given to defining terms. And this is just patent cases.

    • I think the issue is that by seeking, reading and bringing to the jury room information on Rape Trauma Syndrome she was promoting the idea of the "alleged victim" as simply "victim". The jury were there to decide whether the accused committed the rape, it could be argued that the forewoman's actions prejudiced the jury in that decision. If she had read it before that's fine because she didn't know what case she was going to be on.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gander666 (723553) *

      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 t

    • How can an encyclopedia taint a verdict?

      How can an online editable encyclopedia taint a verdict? You can't fathom how something that could be written to by either the prosecution or the defence during the course of a trial could taint a verdict?
  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:30AM (#34586134) Homepage

    Do we REALLY want a justice system where the jurists are encouraged to be ignorant?

    When searching for "reference materials for juries" I came across numerous links to some of the most absurd things. One example of jury misconduct was listed as using a dictionary for the purpose of understanding a legal term.

    When jurists actually want to know and understand what is going on and how things work, I am encouraged that the justice system "wants" to work as it was intended. But when I see the officers of the legal system blocking certain aspects and elements of the justice system, I have to feel disappointed and disheartened.

    • by bwalling (195998)
      The definition in the dictionary isn't what the law is. Juries are supposed to render verdicts on the facts and the law, not on Merriam-Webster, Oxford, Britannica, Wikipedia or anything else. If this was a matter of state law, then the jury was given the relevant portion of state law that the defendant was charged with. If 'rape trauma syndrome' is a technical term relevant to the case, then expert witnesses are brought in by one or both sides and are questioned by both sides. The ability to bring thes
    • How about juries the request information from the court?

  • Well, if I'm ever called up for jury duty, I guess I would have to check my brain at the door. I read a lot of stuff about all kinds of shit in The Economist and also Wikipedia. I don't need a printed copy to recite what I have read.

    Oh, I have been called up for jury duty. My mom called the number to explain that I live on a different continent: problem solved. When my dad was called up, he told me that both the prosecution and the defense would try to toss anybody with half a brain from the jury pool.

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

    by MentlFlos (7345) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:44AM (#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.
  • As it has come out in the comments below, the headline is plain wrong.

    The judge declared a mistrial because a juror did something jurors are not allowed to do; bring outside information into deliberation. That the information in this case happened to be a wikipedia article is hardly relevant. In fact, it is a poor attempt to make a common "illegal stuff deemed illegal"-case interesting for it computer.literate.

  • A trial had to be cancelled because of leaks in the courthouse's bathrooms !

  • by KiahZero (610862) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:55AM (#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?

  • I've been on a jury a few times (just lucky, I guess), and there is usually an expert brought in. Sometimes the prosecution can just get the psychologist or lab tech who is on staff to explain their measurement/diagnosis. The problem is, no matter how good the expert is, the prosecution MUST ask the correct questions or the jury is totally confused about the facts of the case. That is a major pain in the ass during deliberations. There are some people who, despite clear instructions from the judge, just

  • by MikeRT (947531) on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:01AM (#34586460) Homepage

    That if the prosecutor had withheld exculpatory evidence that the judge would not have done this?

    The agents of the state can literally get away with "murder by state" (some prosecutors have actually successfully defended the prosecution of likely innocent men on death row), but a jury forewoman cannot research a technical term.

    I'd be more sympathetic if the law actually stated that if a prosecutor violates any procedure in court, intentionally or unintentionally, all charges are dropped with prejudice (meaning they can never be refiled).

    **All charges**

  • 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.

    This is all Julian Assange's fault!
    Wikipedia must be shut down!!
    The Internet must be brought under control!

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