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Thursday, 17 September 2009 15:46

Lawyer demands jury stops Googling

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Using Google to research a news story is easy on your iPhone. Which is why one lawyer wants jurors to stop doing it.

We've all done it: used Google to find out more about someone in the news. Many of us will have done it from our mobile phone, meaning we can get a mixture of fact and fiction about pretty much anyone pretty much anywhere.

Unfortunately the anywhere seems to include hotel room where jury members stay during a case, or even in the courtroom itself.

Of course, such activity is not only frowned upon but in most courts the presiding judge will specifically warn jurors not to discuss any aspect of the case they are hearing, with anyone outside of the jury.

Furthermore, the will be instructed not to consult outside sources such as newspapers or television news as media reporting could sway their opinion. Jurors who ignore such instructions do so at the peril of being in contempt of court and facing fines or even prison time as a result.

But according to reports these warnings are being routinely ignored courtesy of mobile devices such as the iPhone and easy searching via Google.

Things have now come to a head during the jury selection process for the trial concerning a lawsuit against Entercom Communications which owns the KDND-FM radio station in Sacramento, US.

A couple of years back, KDND-FM held an on-air competition which involved drinking as much water as possible without going for a pee. It became known as the 'hold your wee for a wii' contest,
courtesy of the prize on offer. It also saw the death of contestant Jennifer Strange who died after taking part.

So why the call for a Google ban now, and is the Internet really bad for justice? More on page 2...

CONTINUES


The case, some 2 and a half years back now, unsurprisingly got a lot of Internet media attention and a search on Jennifer Strange brings up every possible theory about how she died and who was to blame.

San Diego lawyer Harvey Levine now wants jurors who get through the selection process to sign a declaration stating that they will not use "personal electronic and media devices" to research or communicate about the case.

Levine argues, in court papers, that jurors who do conduct Internet research like this are guilty of juror misconduct.

It works both ways, of course, and you might recall the case of UK Magistrate Steve Molyneux, also known as ProfOnTheProwl on Twitter. Earlier this year he stepped down after 16 years on the bench, following reports that he had been sending Tweets about the cases he had been hearing.

Still, the notion of banning Google (and all other search engines) during the full length of a trial is an interesting one. Not all juries are kept 'on-site' as it were, in some case they go home after each day and return the next.

Is it really feasible to prevent them from watching TV, listening to the radio or, god forbid, using the Internet when at home? Of course not, nor is it feasible to do the same at a jury hotel during a trial.

Isn't it about time the courts caught up with the times we live in? Lawyers go to great lengths to determine what facts can and cannot be put before a jury, and often crucial evidence is kept away from them due to some legal technicality or other.

Surely the more information that is made available to a jury the better, technology provides them with a better 360 view of events.

Even the 'but it might be biased information' argument is nullified by the fact that bias is exactly what you get from both defending and prosecuting lawyers - yet jurors are thought to be intelligent enough to arrive at a balanced opinion despite this.

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