A federal appeals court ruling this week may open the door for judges to increase their use of search engines during court cases. Monday’s ruling authorized a judge’s use of Google to “confirm an intuition about a matter of common knowledge,” according to Reuters.
The case in question was a criminal matter in which the defendant allegedly violated the terms of his release. U.S. District Judge Denny Chin used Google to confirm his intuition about some of the evidence — the wearing of a yellow rain hat — and eventually found the defendant guilty. The defendant appealed, citing Chin’s search engine usage in the process.
The appellate court denied that appeal, saying the judge was allowed to use the Internet as he did in this case and that today’s technology makes it easier and less expensive for judges to confirm intuitions:
[20 years ago] a trial judge may have needed to travel to a local department store to survey the rain hats on offer.
Today, however, a judge need only take a few moments to confirm his intuition by conducting a basic Internet search. As the cost of confirming one’s intuition decreases, we would expect to see more judges doing just that.
As I wrote last year in ‘Google Mistrial’ – Is Search Getting In The Way Of Justice?, judges have been using search engines to help decide cases as far back as 2002. But those same conveniences don’t usually apply to jurors — many of whom are specifically instructed not to use Google or any other search engine when deciding matters of law, and not allowed to bring mobile phones into the courthouse at all.
One piece of irony: The judge in this matter, Denny Chin, is also the presiding judge in the Google Book Search settlement dispute.