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Censorship The Courts

Judge Closes Online Access To Info On Civil Case 64

Ponca City, We love you writes "The Tulsa World reports that Judge Linda Morrissey has ordered online access to information about a civil case locked up on the court website for the duration of a retrial out of concern that jurors might access earlier trial information and be prejudiced. The first trial, which focused on a death amid allegations of negligent medical care, wound up in a mistrial because jurors did not reach a verdict. Lawyers involved in the second trial agreed to the order because they were concerned that jurors could be influenced by getting information from a record of events in a case filed in February 2007 that could be inadmissible as trial evidence. Morrissey routinely gives strong admonitions to jurors that they not search the Internet for information about a case being tried. But not everyone agrees with the judge's closing of court records. The lawyers involved in the trial 'don't represent the public's interest in those records,' says Joey Senat, an associate professor of journalism at Oklahoma State University who writes for FOI Oklahoma, adding that what might be convenient to trial participants does not outweigh 'the public's right or need to know.'"
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Judge Closes Online Access To Info On Civil Case

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  • by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @08:18AM (#32083476)

    online access to information about a civil case locked up on the court website for the duration of a retrial

    Only for the duration of the retrial. Surely people have other things to lookup on the internet besides this case while this is being retried, don't they?

  • The judge is there to make sure all parties get a fair trial. In this case, that concern outweighs the need for public oversight of trial proceedings. It's not like the records are being expunged, afterall.

  • by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @08:31AM (#32083562)

    "Public oversight" comes after the trial, anyhow. During the trial, it can't do anything but mess things up.

    After the trial, it can reverse a wrongful conviction.

    In no case could it ever convict someone who was wrong found 'not guilty'.

  • by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @08:35AM (#32083578)

    I agree. "Gut feeling" has no place in a jury box. For that matter, "logic" has a very limited place as well. Evidence is what really matters.

    "Better 10 Guilty Men Go Free than to Convict a Single Innocent Man"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @08:44AM (#32083642)

    The unconvicted guilty will get convicted sooner or later. If they were stupid enough to be in court once, they're stupid enough to end up in court again.

    The poor innocent man will end up in prison for something they didn't do and could end up dead from it since prisoners will completely rail on a prisoner if they've been convicted of certain crimes (like kiddy rape) and prisoners can be a very resourceful lot when they put their minds to it.

  • by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @08:57AM (#32083732)
    All it takes is one juror who thinks they are "smarter" than the rest, or who can "remain objective" when they peek at the forbidden fruit, or who wants to play Matlock, to set the clock back and send this to a 3rd trial.

    Does this set a precedent? Maybe. But court records are sealed all the time, so a temporary lockdown isn't anything new.
  • by dcw3 ( 649211 ) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:02AM (#32083766) Journal

    Joey Senat, an associate professor of journalism at Oklahoma State University who writes for FOI Oklahoma, adding that what might be convenient to trial participants does not outweigh 'the public's right or need to know.'"

    Freedom of the press does not give the media free reign to interfere with other peoples rights, such as the right to a fair trial. The statement about the public's right or need to know is nothing but self-serving propaganda. Take your 15 minutes of fame, and go away.

  • by realsilly ( 186931 ) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:15AM (#32083904)

    As much as I personnally believe that criminals get off too easily from the crimes that they commit, I understand why the judge asked for this and why all judges should. The reason is so that people don't get railroaded or blamed for a crime that they potentially did not commit. If I stole a car regardless of the reason and I'm being blames in two other situations for stealing two other cars which puts me in three cases at once. Well since our laws dictact innocent until proven guilty. I'm am therefore entitled to a fair and unbiased trial. If the jurors of one trial knew of the other court case, they could presumably assume I'm guilty of the first and ignore any evidence to the contrary. If they don't know about the other cases and find me innocent which I might be then I've been fairly tried.

    Now conversely, if you have a guy that is repeat offender of crimes and is in several trial simultaneously, the same still holds true. We must believe in our judicial system to handle things correctly. If the defense attornies are clever enough to take solid convicting evidence and make a juror doubt it, then we must hope that the jury pool works the truth out of the facts and comes to the correct conclusion.

    Trust me when I say, you'll want those same protections for you if you should ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of defending yourself at a trial.

  • Re:Prejudiced? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jedi Alec ( 258881 ) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:18AM (#32083940)

    I can think of many cases off the top of my head where a jury SHOULD be prejudiced, irrespective of what the judge says. If a juror finds out that an "expert witness" has a history of sending people to prison on testimony that sounds like pure equine ejectus, they should regard the man as a pathological liar. Just look up "Stephen Hayne bit mark evidence" on Google for a really good, sleazy example (my all time favorite, though is the "forensics expert" who calculated by the angle of a gun shot wound that it took two shooters holding the same gun to pull it off).

    The US has an adverserial justice system. In other words, if 1 side puts a sleazy dirtbag on the witness stand, it's the opposing council's job to show this during cross-examination.

    And expert witnesses don't send anyone to prison, that's the job of the judge and jury.

  • Re:Prejudiced? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nomadic ( 141991 ) <> on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:21AM (#32083958) Homepage
    It all goes back to the fact that the defense, prosecution and judge want to mold the mind of the jury. The judge can't stand the idea that the jury might want to research what other judges say the law means, what the legal code actually says in raw text, what happened, etc.

    The problem is, when it comes to legal interpretation incomplete understanding is dangerous. Look at the average slashdotter, who I would characterize as smarter and better-educated than the average American juror, yet repeatedly get the law completely wrong.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @09:45AM (#32084218)
    Jurors don't know the law. They're not expected to. They're supposed to determine fact based on what has been presented. There's a lot of reasons why they shouldn't privately be doing the job that the lawyers are supposed to do. Some things may be inadmissible. Some "facts" may be irrelevant or simply wrong.

    Now, I'm all for having intelligent people, experts in relevant fields on the jury to process the information presented. But they absolutely should not be bringing outside information about the specific case or the people involved. If it wasn't presented in court, it's very likely not relevant to the very specific decision they need to make.
  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @10:03AM (#32084420) Homepage

    I was curious and found that the NYPD has arrest records online. the guy on trial had 10 or so other cases against him at the same time including weapons possession. can't remember if the cops found the weapons at the same time as the drugs, but it was a separate trial. of course i never told any of the other jurors and we ended up finding the guy not guilty even though i thought he was guilty. but based on the evidence presented at trial, he was not guilty.

    I don't know exactly what the rules are in New York, but in Ohio you would be in violation of your oath as a juror, and have demonstrated exactly why this legal decision by the judge was absolutely correct.

    For starters, an arrest record or other charges prove nothing about the defendant. They only prove that the police and/or prosecutor's office thought that the defendant committed some other crimes, not that he actually did commit a crime. For all you know, the real problem was that the defendant was sleeping with the prosecutor's wife. Another factor is that any other evidence you found from, say, news reports, could have been thrown out at trial due to violations of the defendant's constitutional rights.

    Secondly, and more importantly, you said yourself that you thought he was guilty despite insufficient evidence presented in court to make that determination. If you had told the other jurors and convicted the defendant based on your non-evidence, you could well have sent an innocent man to jail. In addition, if there had been sufficient evidence to convict at trial, but you told the other jurors about what you found, you just gave a guilty man grounds for mistrial, which would allow him to return to the streets.

    In short, there are very good reasons for the rules that you may think are stupid, oppressive, etc.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @10:47AM (#32085108)

    Joey Senat is a professor of journalism, not law or philosophy, so his statements in this regard don't mean jack. For that matter the belief that the public has the right/need to know completely ignores the fact that the public needs:
    1. the ability to think about the information without bias.
    2. have access to unbiased information which is not likely something they would get through the trial itself.
      - MaloS

  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @11:20AM (#32085664) Homepage

    All that says is that he was probably guilty of weapons charges and evading police. Nothing in what you said proved drug charges, which is what you were responsible for deciding. The key here is that your job as a juror is to decide "Did Mr Jones do XYZ?", not "Is Mr Jones a criminal?"

    You have to trust that if he's guilty of evading police (for instance), another jury will convict him of that, or a plea bargain will happen to lock him up.

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read.