informa
/
4 min read
Commentary

Technology Tainting Trials? Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!

The New York Times is wringing its hands over jurors checking the Web during trials, leading to a rash of mistrials. But the Times' story gets the point almost completely backwards. The fault isn't with the technology, or with the jurors. It's with an arrogant, controlling legal system living in a dream world that ignores fundamental changes in the way people access information.
The New York Times is wringing its hands over jurors checking the Web during trials, leading to a rash of mistrials. But the Times' story gets the point almost completely backwards. The fault isn't with the technology, or with the jurors. It's with an arrogant, controlling legal system living in a dream world that ignores fundamental changes in the way people access information.The rANT hasn't served on a jury for 20 years, but not all that much has changed in the way our legal system deals with trials. Outside the courtroom, of course, the rest of the world has changed quite a lot. It's time the court system got over itself and and caught up with the times.

Technology has altered the processes and power structures in business, in culture, in communities, in socializing, and in just about every area of life you can think of. But the courts are still living in 16th Century England, which is starting to cause some big problems.

John Schwartz' New York Times article -- As Jurors Turn to Web, Mistrials Are Popping Up, coins the phrase "Google Mistrial" in the case of Florida drug trial where 9 of the 12 jurors were researching it on the Web.

The judge got a "shock" and the defense was "stunned."

Please.

Despite judicial instructions to the contrary, jurors have been reading newspapers and doing their own research on cases for as long as there have been trials. For high-profile trials, jurors have often walked into the courtroom with quite a bit of exposure to the case. So the corruption of the purity of the juror experience is nothing new.

Two things are new, however.

First, the Web makes it much easier to research the facts -- and almost facts -- of just about any case, not just the famous ones. As the Times notes:

"They can look up the name of a defendant on the Web or examine an intersection using Google Maps... Wikipedia can help explain the technology underlying a patent claim or medical condition, Google Maps can show how long it might take to drive from Point A to Point B, and news sites can write about a criminal defendant, his lawyers or expert witnesses."

Second, iPhones and Blackberries make it possible to do that research in real time, either in the courtroom or on breaks.

Sure, those changes are significant, but also not very surprising. It's also no surprise that jurors are turning to the Web for information. As anyone who's ever served on a jury knows, jurors are typically treated like sheep or idiot children, herded around and exposed only to what arrogant and priviledged judges and attorneys decide is fit for them see.

With the courts' emphasis seemingly on the process, not on the search for "truth," the temptation for jurors to rebel can be hard to resist. In fact, the only surprise here is on the part of the clueless court workers. This trend has been obvious for years: One juror in a recent trial told The rANT that many of his fellow jurors were openly gazing at their smartphones during the case. (He thinks they were only checking email, not doing research, but he can't be sure.)

So what does all this brew-ha-ha mean to a small business person who isn't on trial? If nothing else, it's an object lession on how technology changes the rules. Just because something has been done a certain way for a long time doesn't mean it's going to keep happening that way.

Technology has fundamentally changed the way people access information. In the courts, on the street, and in business. That train has left the station, and as the judges and lawyers are learning the hard way, if you don't get in front of it, you're likely to get run over by it.

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Pam Baker, Contributing Writer
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Greg Douglass, Global Lead for Technology Strategy & Advisory, Accenture
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter