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Our Googling Ways

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by: Abassos • January 12, 2010 • no comments

When I don't know the answer to a question, my first instinct is to reach for my iPhone and look it up on google. I don't need wifi or a real computer. All the world's information is there at my fingertips. Criminal records. Maps. Newspaper stories. Explanations of scientific concepts. Wikipedia.

You may be the same way. You and I with our googling instincts. You and I and most of the jurors who now sit on criminal cases. Sure, judges tell jurors not to look things up on the internet. But the bland instruction feels so 10 years ago - when looking stuff up wasn't so seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. I'm guessing it's a much bigger problem than any of us realize. But trouble signs are there and the media is starting to take notice, as evidenced by this recent Washington Post story. The Washington Post perked up when the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned a murder conviction because a juror looked up the definition of a word he didn't understand ("lividity" FWIW).

It seems to me that a much stronger instruction is in order. And, perhaps, an actual threat of contempt for particularly egregious situations. A not so egregrious situation would be one where a juror looks up the definition of a word or even a scientific concept to better understand the evidence. A really frightening situation would be one where the juror gathers evidence on the incident or the people involved in the incident. Like, for example, pulling someone's criminal record.

In any case, if there's information you're keeping out that is internet accessible, you should probably think through whether you want to request a strong instruction at the beginning of the case.