An English juror has been sentenced to six months in prison for contempt of court after doing Internet research on a trial, and sharing that research with her fellow jurors. The trial was subsequently abandoned.
Over on Ars Technica, Peter Bright considered what the contempt ruling means for jurors. Put simply, said Bright’s headline, jurors must “leave the information age—or go to jail”.
A better headline would be: “Jurors: just because you can’t understand anything more complicated than a Pizza Hut menu without Googling doesn’t give you the right to ignore the explicit directions of a judge in a criminal trial. When a real person is facing actual jail there are really good reasons why a judge — not fucking Wikipedia — gets to decide what’s relevant and what’s not.”
What Bright is arguing for is an acceptance, not of the information age, but of a generation of self-entitled techno-douchebags.
A generation that for whom texting and tweeting and photographing through dinner has become not just acceptable, but de rigueur. And if other diners disagree: screw ’em. A generation for whom the ready availability of pirated material online is evidence that Hollywood and copyright law are redundant, just as we must respond to the availability of duct tape and children by legalising kidnapping. If the law doesn’t like it: hack ’em.
A generation who thinks that the way to protest laws you disagree with is to publish the home addresses of hundreds of police officers. A generation who, when explicitly told by a judge not to do something that is technologically trivial, simply rolls its collective eyes and sabotages a criminal trial. And a generation who when reading that last example doesn’t think “good — that’ll teach the stupid little dickhead” but rather rails against how a juror is expected to “mak[e] his assessment only on the basis of the narrow set of facts presented during the trial.”
Yes, that’s how trials work, you numbskull.
But, the technodouche might argue, maybe it’s time to Disrupt criminal trials. For hundreds of years we’ve allowed judges (1%ers that they are!) to tell us what to do, and their private police force — the, er, police! — to enforce that “law” with an iron fist.
Today’s technology allows us to be truly be tried by our peers — all of them. Why not introduce a system of trial by wiki? Let witnesses, the defendant, that defendant’s friends, bloggers, anonymous commenters, children, performing chimps — anyone with access to a keyboard and an opinion — throw all of their thoughts and arguments together in one gigantic collaborative document. Some kind of thumbs up thing will ensure accuracy, obviously. Then open the whole thing up to voting. A majority of guilty votes — the guy swings. We have the technology! Let’s do it!
Alternatively, we could get the hell over ourselves and realise that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. It’s called self-control. Someone should build an app for it.