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Judge Declares Mistrial Because of Wikipedia

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the jury-nullification dept.

Crime 558

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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Personally... (5, Funny)

NMEismyNME (725242) | more than 3 years ago | (#34585968)

Will Jimmy Wales appeal?

Re:Personally... (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586126)

I'm not giving Wikipedia a penny. I did a paper on for my history class on Ronald Reagan, and I got an 'F' because I cited Wikipedia saying that he had been a suspect in the Kennedy assassination.

Re:Personally... (1)

dragonhunter21 (1815102) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586248)

That's your own fault. Check the citations in the article.

Well (1)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 3 years ago | (#34585974)

Just using wikipedia by itself is a case for a mistrial almost... every college student should know you can't cite that thing directly.

Re:Well (2)

Ogive17 (691899) | more than 3 years ago | (#34585998)

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.

Re:Well (1)

fishexe (168879) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586020)

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.

Re:Well (1)

edumacator (910819) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586404)

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

Re:Well (2)

garcia (6573) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586048)

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.

Re:Well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586136)

Indeed, the stereotype is that highly educated people are less likely to be selected.

Re:Well (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586158)

"Remember, jury members come from all walks of life."

Unfortunately that's not the case, since a large majority of the more educated ones, with a job they might lose, try to get out of jury duty by simulating racism, substance abuse or whatever, leaving the jury with pensioners, jobless and non-working spouses.

A whole new age for the mob. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34585992)

Anytime a mob boss gets convicted nowadays they can just get one of the jurors to bring something into the jury room. Don't need to threaten people anymore, no harm no foul.

Re:A whole new age for the mob. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586092)

Uh, how is this new? Bringing a Wikipedia article into the jury room is no different than bringing in a newspaper, and those have been around a pretty long time. However, both are pretty irrelevant to a mob trial, as juries in those cases are pretty much always sequestered.

wow... (5, Interesting)

Yaa 101 (664725) | more than 3 years ago | (#34585996)

So only an ignorant Jury is a fair one?

Re:wow... (5, Insightful)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Would you prefer a completely clueless jury then? (4, Insightful)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Would you prefer a completely clueless jury the (4, Insightful)

kevinNCSU (1531307) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Would you prefer a completely clueless jury the (1)

Golddess (1361003) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586288)

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?

Re:Would you prefer a completely clueless jury the (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586304)

Actually yes. The jury asks the judge for clarification of anything they way, and the judge then sorts out who has to tell the jury.

Re:Would you prefer a completely clueless jury the (5, Interesting)

Stele (9443) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586336)

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.

Re:Would you prefer a completely clueless jury the (5, Insightful)

Aqualung812 (959532) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Would you prefer a completely clueless jury the (2)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586342)

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.

Re:Would you prefer a completely clueless jury the (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586400)

"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.

You say that like the juror had no other means of research. She could have requested material from the judge. That is the right way to do it in a trial.

Re:Would you prefer a completely clueless jury the (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586410)

You're an idiot. If i can go into Wikipedia and edit almost any article, i think that qualifies as misleading information in its purest form.

Re:Would you prefer a completely clueless jury the (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586462)

yes, so as stated elsewhere, the PROPER course of action would have been for the jury foreman to request that information from the judge rather than go out on her own and dig it out.

The information in Wikipedia is actually probably accurate from a technical sense, but different jurisdictions may have slightly different meanings in from the standpoint of the statutes that Wikipedia does not reflect.

This is the correct legal decision.

Re:wow... (1)

ffreeloader (1105115) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586108)

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 is served. That's a jury I want to decide any case I'm involved in. I would want a thinking, inquiring, jury.

Re:wow... (1)

dragonhunter21 (1815102) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586274)

How it should have been handled is the foreman should have asked for some literature about whatever she had a question about. I'm a big fan of Wikipedia, but in cases of law, opinion should be left out. Wikipedia has way too much opinion to be reliably used during legal proceedings. Use an old-fashioned encyclopedia.

Re:wow... (1)

SaroDarksbane (1784314) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586346)

Use an old-fashioned encyclopedia.

Are you arguing that printed encyclopedias are more accurate and less biased than Wikipedia?

Re:wow... (2)

franciscohs (1003004) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586298)

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?

Re:wow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586332)

Life itself is biased incomplete and lacks citations. Are you saying that you wouldn't want living jurors in your ideal "fair" courtroom?
I don't belive the problem here was that she was using a suboptimal source. The point is that outside of the juries own prior knowlage, all the information that is brought before them should come through the courtroom. That is why we have expert witnesses. To educate the jury of terms like "Rape trauma syndrome" and other terms that are not known to their full meaning by the general public.

Re:wow... (1)

Nikker (749551) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586446)

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?

Re:wow... (1)

Ex-MislTech (557759) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586508)

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.

Re:wow... (1)

LordNacho (1909280) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586018)

I think the idea is that the judge tries to make sure they know what they need to know. Any extra reading might throw the jurors' understanding off what the judge thinks is right.

Of course this doesn't mean you can't be misinformed BEFORE the trial starts...

Re:wow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586076)

Of course this doesn't mean you can't be misinformed BEFORE the trial starts...

Thats why the lawyers interview and agree to the jury before the trial.

Re:wow... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586022)

Of course it is. Where have you been? The whole process is designed to get the most ignorant people, in all sense of the words, to be your "peers".

Re:wow... (3, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Or... (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586172)

perhaps if the juror had brought in a volume of Encyclopedia Britannica, things would be different.

Or if the defendant was not a police officer.
Or if his lawyer wasn't just elected to a position of a judge.

On Wednesday, the judge lowered Olenchak's bond from $100,000 to $35,000 and ordered him to turn in his passport within 30 days. Olenchak has been in jail since the jury delivered its verdict on Dec. 2, but relatives are working on posting bond.

Olenchak also will have to hire a new defense attorney. John Fry, who represented him at trial, won election in November as a county court judge and will be sworn in on Jan. 4.

Re:wow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586220)

Encyclopedia Britannica is published by ONE company. (In the USA, that's ONE person, legally). That's pretty much the definition of one-sided.

Re:wow... (5, Insightful)

fishexe (168879) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586082)

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... (-1, Troll)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586110)

Since when is "be ignorant" a rule?

Re:wow... (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586196)

Since the justice system ceased to serve the truth and became slaves to "the process".

Re:wow... (1)

Evanisincontrol (830057) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586198)

Jesus, did you just read his first sentence and then stop? Here, let me repeat the GP's key point for you:

If you have a question or need more clarification on terminology, you ask the judge.

Re:wow... (0)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586364)

Yes , because judges are omnipotent and know the answer to everything - oh wait , they have to go look it up too. I wonder where from?

Re:wow... (1)

protodevilin (1304731) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586432)

The key difference being that that judge assumes responsibility for the veracity of the information, not the juror. Given that the judge has a lot more experience with what should or shouldn't be admissable in the courtroom, this only makes sense.

Re:wow... (1)

protodevilin (1304731) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586208)

Did you only read the first sentence before responding? I can run the rest by you again:

"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."

Seems like you're the only one following the "be ignorant" rule.

Re:wow... (0)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586388)

Do fill us in on where the judges would get this reliable information from. They have experts in every area on standby at the end of a phone? Or do they just an encylopedia , maybe , gasp , even wikipedia?

Re:wow... (4, Interesting)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:wow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586500)

Wow. I'm glad that judges are omniscient. Why bother with a jury trial at all?

Re:wow... (4, Insightful)

DRJlaw (946416) | more than 3 years ago | (#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?

Re:wow... (1)

RingDev (879105) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586444)

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 remember incorrectly.

Additionally, I would like to know (as I have never had the opportunity to serve on jury duty) what are jurors suppose to do if a lawyer or the judge uses words/phrases they are unfamiliar with or procedures that they do not understand? Can they raise their hands in the middle of an opening statement and ask the judge for a clarification? Do they have to write down their question and ask at a recess? Or are they left to just 'figure it out' on their own, with out being allowed to see any other reference material?

I'm just interested in how this is intended to play out, because as you point out, if I were a defendant, I wouldn't want my jurors looking up biased or incorrect information online. But not too long ago I heard about a trial where the jury requested a copy of the law that was allegedly violated in text, and it was refused. How can the jury make an informed decision if they aren't even allowed to understand the laws and concepts being debated.

It turns court rooms into nothing more that sales men with marketing campaigns. Which brand do you like better, Prosecutor Co. or Defendants Inc?

-Rick

Re:wow... (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586472)

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. The judge then decides who will respond so as not to unfairly bias the verdict in one way or another. The jury doesn't need to be ignorant, but their sources need to be carefully controlled to remove any potential bias for or against either side.

I say potato and you say.. (1)

RenHoek (101570) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586012)

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 are checked by the court later on.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586024)

You're not supposed to look at any of those; you're only supposed to use the information given to you in court.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (3, Insightful)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586102)

You're not supposed to look at any of those; you're only supposed to use the information given to you in court.

My understanding is that's not correct. You are only supposed to use the facts of the case as presented in court. Learning about terminology and/or phraseology used in the court, AFAIK, shouldn't cause a mistrial.

As someone else pointed out, Wikipedia is well known for incorrect information but I'm not really sure how that differs from someone walking about with an already incorrect and/or incomplete and/or complete ignorance of the definition/phrase/terminology.

But ultimately, judges are emperors of their own kingdom so they frequently get latitude to create their own rules. I have no idea of this is one of those situations or not.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586516)

If she had brought in a pages torn from volume of the Britannica it would have been the same

The point is not that it is from Wikipedia and so unreliable, it is that it is from anywhere that has not been approved as reliable enough by the judge or the defence and prosecution, anything can be brought into evidence however unreliable as long as all parties agree, and anything not approved however reliable can cause a mistrial ....
 

Re:I say potato and you say.. (2)

MonkeyBoy (4760) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586152)

You aren't just allowed to use information that was provided during trial, legal terms can be thrown around in court yet never get explained to the jury. The juror should have asked the judge for clarification about the topic, at which point the judge would have provided background material that was legally sound or at least neutral. Any reference material that wasn't cleared by the judge would have been equally bad, it's not just Wikipedia being singled out.

In theory this is the kind of thing (ignorance of key parts of the trial) that jury selection is supposed to cover, but these days they waste time trying to gerrymander a win based on statistics and don't actually bother to ask jurors useful questions - like whether they know what sexual assault when the individual has been charged with sexual assault.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (1)

pthisis (27352) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586044)

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.

Sequester? (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586066)

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?

Re:I say potato and you say.. (4, Informative)

fishexe (168879) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586070)

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:I say potato and you say.. (2, Insightful)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586120)

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.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586156)

The other side in the case should call bullshit. The jury then decides who was right. That's the entire system.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586184)

Correct. If you're a programmer and on jury duty, should it be an IT case, you'll be excused and removed. This is why lawyers get ridiculous verdicts and get to drag cases on for a long time, while they "educate" the jury. Why do you think it's one of the highest paid professions?

Re:I say potato and you say.. (1)

Shadow99_1 (86250) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586182)

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 for this, but frankly I'd rather see the court not rule every aspect of what a term means.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586334)

Not allowing outside sources means only the aspect presented within the courtroom ever gets heard.

This is, in fact, the idea. If all the information is from the courtroom, both sides know what information the jury is considering, and can present counter-arguments. As soon as one side doesn't know that (because the jury is using information from outside the courtroom), they lose that ability to present counter-arguments.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (1)

Shadow99_1 (86250) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586490)

Countering sources of factual information is probably the stupidest idea I've ever heard. And if true is probably why law is fucked up.

Those on the jury already bring in their own library of previous information 'sources' and their own opinions. While US courts seem to specifically try to find the dumbest asshats that have the least opinion on something possible, is a horrible way of doing things. It does make it easier for those lawyers to present their skewed view of the world on a jury though...

Re:I say potato and you say.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586448)

No, not allowing unaproved sources prevents bias by ensuring that both sides have equal opertunity to present expert testemony that supports their case.

If one side presents testimony from an 'expert' that helps their case, the other side will:
1. question the expert's credentials (thus ensuring they're genuine and relavent)
2. cross examin the expert (thus ensuring that the other side didn't carefully craft a question to give a misleading answer)
3. provide their own expert testimony that supports _their_ side (thus demonstrating to the jurry that there is debate about the truth of the original testimony)

If they can't do any of the above it can generally be concluded that it's because the testimony of the expert is accurate.

The idea is to have unbiased jurrors, not ignorant jurrors (the difference is subtle, but important). If the jurrors can get information realavent to the case from other chanels than the court has no way of vetting that information for accuracy, or even knowing what biases the jurrors may have picked up by reqading wikipedia that the prosecution or deffence may need to address in order to win their case.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586456)

Maybe they could have persons arguing for each side, and if one of the sides said something false or stupid, the other side could call them out on it.
It'd be like a competition, only you had to fight with facts, so if both sides were competent at it then the side arguing the correct viewpoint would win. That would be pretty neat.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (1)

AllWorkAndNoPlay (1952586) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586480)

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?

One side most likely will, if they think it will help their case. However the other side has an opportunity to bring in their expert witness to dispute what was being said by the first.

Not allowing outside sources means only the aspect presented within the courtroom ever gets heard.

That's exactly the point. Both the prosecution and defense know exactly what information has been presented, and each have equal opportunity to counter the claims/evidence. In many cases someone will file a motion to dismiss evidence before it is even presented in court.

That's like asking for bias.

Which is why we have appellate courts.

I'd rather see the court not rule every aspect of what a term means.

The court is controlling much more than what the term means. In this example 'rape trauma syndrome' may have a simple enough definition, but substantially different viewpoints on how debilitating it may be or what long term damages would exist. Say i'm a prosecutor trying to claim that the defendant somehow caused this person to get 'XYZ Syndrome.' Damages would need to be assessed on the severity of XYZ Syndrome. I may get an expert to say that XYZ may be fatal, while the defense might have their more conservative expert witness say it only causes a cough for 15 minutes. The severity of the damages may be an important part of the verdict or sentencing. The court isn't necessary controlling what the word "is" means, but narrowing the scope of its meaning to what has been discussed.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (1)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586366)

It wasn't about evidence either. It was about the definition of a word.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (0)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586096)

So what makes a reference acceptable?

Credibility. Wikipedia does not have much, unless you're looking for a good overview of the 5th season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or some computer scripting language. It was an interesting idea when it began, but the whole house of cards is toppling even as I write this. You can't sustain an encyclopedia -- or any product of value, really -- in a culture of agenda-driven elites with no fear of losing their jobs if they err.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (4, Informative)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586142)

really? the whole thing is coming down? could have fooled me.
I could have sworn that it's still going strong as a moderately reliable source of information which is vastly more accessible than almost any other in history.

Re:I say potato and you say.. (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586350)

You can't sustain an encyclopedia -- or any product of value, really -- in a culture of agenda-driven elites with no fear of losing their jobs if they err.

As opposed to people with fear of losing their jobs if they don't follow the boss' editorial line?

No encyclopedia is perfect; at least Wikipedia as the History and Discussion pages which help you to assess if there is an editor/contributor deleting valuable contributions because of his/her bias. That's more than you get with paid encyclopedias.

What? (1)

prefec2 (875483) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586062)

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? (4, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:What? (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586118)

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.

Re:What? (1)

gander666 (723553) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586216)

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.

Re:What? (1)

crimperman (225941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586122)

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:What? (1)

Metrathon (311607) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586138)

Encyclopedias go beyond defining the word - I'm guessing a dictionary would be okay?

Re:What? (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586200)

I'm guessing a dictionary would be okay?

A dictionary does not go into the definition of 'rape' or 'rape trauma' as it exists in Florida law.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586352)

Laws are made to protect reality, not some pseudo-intellectual idealized worldview.

So, if I'm on a jury I must stop all outside education of myself for the duration of the trail? I call bullshit, and if that is told to me during the screening, hopefully I'll have no problems telling the court that I disagree with the procedures.

Re:What? (1, Insightful)

gander666 (723553) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586282)

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 the details of the law that will be contested.

Re:What? (2)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586416)

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?

Just an excuse? (1)

DMiax (915735) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586086)

Is it not possible that the judge just wanted a particular verdict and used this as an excuse to replace a jury that was reaching a different conclusion? It would explain why he speaks of "tainted" and did not try to "correct the wrong" and proceed.

Re:Just an excuse? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586276)

Well, the new judge DID lower the bail by almost two thirds, the defendant IS a cop, and the defendant's lawyer in the first trial has just been elected as a judge.

I know that if I was the defendant in this case, all this would seem to me like a VERY favorable set of circumstances.

Re:Just an excuse? (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586420)

So a judge enforces a pre-established rule ("no external research") set dozens of years ago and you assume corruption?

You sound like a friend of mine, who complained the cops stopped her because she's black, when she was driving 140 kph and the limit is 120 kph.

Jurists with knowledge results in mistrial (2)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586134)

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.

s/jurists/jurors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586252)

Jurists are people with legal experience. Jurors serve on juries.

Re:Jurists with knowledge results in mistrial (1)

dragonhunter21 (1815102) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586328)

Discouraging third-party research != encouraging ignorance.

They're trying to make sure that both sides get a fair chance. WP, for all its goodness, still has quite a bit of bias floating around. Ask the judge for some lit about the problem at hand if you're curious.

Re:Jurists with knowledge results in mistrial (2)

bwalling (195998) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586412)

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 these witnesses in court is determined by the judge to ensure that the witnesses are qualified to speak on these subjects. If other literature defining this technical term was admitted into evidence, the judge ruled on its validity, most likely by considering its source. The point of all of this is to make sure that juries (not "jurists", FYI) are deciding cases based on accepted facts that come from expert sources, and that both sides are aware of and can act on the information the jury has. If there are significant questions about or concerns with the information in the Wikipedia article, both the defendant and the plaintiff/prosecution have a legal right to be aware that it has been given to the jury and to address it. To not allow them to address it is a significant breach of their rights.

Your suggestion that limiting sources of facts and information to those that can be verified encourages ignorance boggles my mind. The Internet is full of misinformation, and I wouldn't want a jury deciding my future based on what they found online. Even worse, I could be convicted based on some piece of evidence that I wasn't even allowed to refute.

Re:Jurists with knowledge results in mistrial (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586478)

How about juries the request information from the court?

Jury duty? Check brain at the door. (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586186)

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. So he didn't serve.

Re:Jury duty? Check brain at the door. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586242)

In a Jury, you can't tell other jurors things that are results of your professional knowledge - even if you are more skilled than the expert witness who testified, you can't tell the other jurors why he is wrong.

Re:Jury duty? Check brain at the door. (1)

luther349 (645380) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586278)

i wouldn't say that my uncle is a very smart man and hes done it twice. so i think you mean someone who thinks hes always right bought something. one of the rules bought jury duty is no outside info and that includes the internet. if you need something explained in detail you ask the court and they provide it.its not bought keeping you ignorant or anything the info is available.

Bought? You keep using that word... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586414)

I do not think it means what you think it means.

Not following the judge's instructions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34586202)

This is a case of the jury not following the judge's instructions. One of his instructions is for the jury to not perform their own independant investigation. There is very good reason for this.

If a juror needs more information, then the juror can ask in the court. This is the limit to the investigative capability the juror has, and this is explained in the court room before the trial begins.

Right thing to do. (3, Interesting)

MentlFlos (7345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586262)

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.

No, There was No Mistrial Because of Wikipedia (1)

Lundse (1036754) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586264)

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.

Next: trial cancelled because of Weak Leaks (1)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586324)

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

Amazing how eager some are to give up fair trials (5, Insightful)

KiahZero (610862) | more than 3 years ago | (#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?

prosecutions fault (1)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586426)

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 don't understand what their role as juror is. As long as this is what the system is, the best the lawyers can do is try to explain as much as possible (or not...).

Anyone want to bet... (2)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 3 years ago | (#34586460)

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**

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