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Jesse Brown: Trial by Jury is broken.

A recent federal drug case in Florida became a mistrial when it was revealed that 8 of the 12 jurors had been researching it online, against court orders. Other instances of the same are popping up.

This is a big threat to the whole idea of trial by jury. From the Times piece:

…the rules of evidence, developed over hundreds of years of jurisprudence, are there to ensure that the facts that go before a jury have been subjected to scrutiny and challenge from both sides…

Sounds good to me. But I have to ask: how can the courts possibly control this?

Some judges ban cellphones and PDAs in the courtroom, but once court’s out of session, Google’s waiting. Short of sequestering each and every jury in wireless hotel rooms (an expensive proposition that makes jury duty sound like prison) it seems that this is just another old system that the internet has broken.

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Kevin

Ottawa

Jesse. A simple way to control it would be to find the jurors who knowingly disobeyed instructions in contempt of court... Or even have them charged with obstruction of justice. The rationale is pretty simple. The Times piece is correct. Allowing the jurors to access unverified sources, or sources of information which have been disqualified, interferes with the trial process. While this won't prevent them from doing so, it will cause them to think twice. The jury is to decide based on the evidence presented, not on what is available.

Posted March 19, 2009 12:34 PM

Chris O

BC

This is a giant vote of non-confidence in the legal system. People are doing it because they don't trust judges and lawyers, they don't trust the system, and they don't like being led around by the noses and told what they can and cannot see.

The courts are either going to have to convince jurors and the public of the legitimacy of their rules, and the usual "we've been doing it this way forever" or "I have a law degree so I'm smarter than you" aren't going to cut it anymore, or they're going to have to adapt.

Posted March 22, 2009 04:36 AM

Kevin

Ottawa

Chris. Not to sound snide, but why would they trust the Internet as a source of information? Certainly people don't trust the courts, given the number of folks who are acquitted on technicalities, and the number of cases where the person was wrongly convicted. Add to this the cases where the prosecution just didn't provide a convincing argument that the person was guilty (this one comes down to the fact that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person is guilty).

Acquitted on technicalities, from what I have seen, generally means that while the evidence may in fact point to the person being guilty, means that the police or prosecution has broken the rules in gathering evidence. For instance, an illegal search, or failing to turn over possibly exculpatory evidence to the defence.

In the second case, some are convicted in good faith based on faulty evidence, and in a few other cases on bad faith investigations (the police never considered the possibility that someone else did the crime).

However, is the Internet a better source of information? Especially given that it becomes much more difficult for the defendant to confront their accuser if that person is a (semi-)anonymous blog or forum poster? After all, it is all over the Internet that the 9/11 terrorists entered the US from Canada, even though it is known, and proved to be, false. Rules of evidence are there to ensure that the prosecution must prove the person guilty, using evidence gathered in accordance with the rights of the accused. This doesn't prevent wrongful convictions, but it does help prevent.

Posted March 26, 2009 07:48 AM

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