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Friday Roundup

Technology meets the law.  I, and just about everybody else in the world, have commented on the new term which has entered the legal lexicon:  the "Google mistrial," which results when a member of the jury does legal research online or sends a text message about the case to someone else.  (And it's not limited to lawyers; a medical malpractice suit in Boston was settled for "a substantial amount" when the plaintiff's lawyer discovered that the defendant doctor was blogging about the trial.)

With a hat tip to LegalBlogWatch, we learn that a committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States has prepared a set of model jury instructions to deter this practice.  The full set of instructions can be found here; the highlights:

BEFORE TRIAL

* * * you should not consult dictionaries or reference materials, search the internet, websites, blogs, or use any other electronic tools to obtain information about this case or to help you decide the case.

* * * I know that many of you use cell phones, Blackberries, the internet and other tools of technology. You also must not talk to anyone about this case or use these tools to communicate electronically with anyone about the case. This includes your family and friends. You may not communicate with anyone about the case on your cell phone, through e-mail, Blackberry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, through any blog or website, through any internet chat room, or by way of any other social networking websites, including Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

AT THE CLOSE OF THE CASE

During your deliberations, you must not communicate with or provide any information to anyone by any means about this case. You may not use any electronic device or media, such as a telephone, cell phone, smart phone, iPhone, Blackberry or computer; the internet, any internet service, or any text or instant messaging service; or any internet chat room, blog, or website such as Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, YouTube or Twitter, to communicate to anyone any information about this case or to conduct any research about this case until I accept your verdict.

The thinking is that if jurors are specifically advised about the use of certain devices, rather than just given a general admonition regarding outside communications, there are going to be fewer problems.  I think there's some merit to that idea.

Mo' money, mo' money, Part 37.  Defense attorneys, legal scholars, and just about anybody who has a passing interest in civil liberty have long railed against criminal forfeiture laws, which allow police and prosecutors to seize money, cars and even houses on the theory that they've been the instrumentalities or fruits of crime, and then putting the owner of those items to the burden of pursuing various legal hurdles to have the items returned.  I didn't realize the extent of the problem until I came across this recent piece in Reason:

According to a 1992 Cato Institute study examining the early results of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, total federal forfeiture revenues increased by 1,500 percent between 1985 and 1991. The Justice Department’s forfeiture fund (which doesn’t include forfeitures from customs agents) jumped from $27 million in 1985 to $644 million in 1991; by 1996 it crossed the $1 billion line, and as of 2008 assets had increased to $3.1 billion.

The real kicker is the next line:  "According to the government’s own data, less than 20 percent of federal seizures involved property whose owners were ever prosecuted" for any crime relating to the items seized.

What, their Tasers weren't working?  A hat-tip to Lowering the Bar for pointing us to this story from the New York Daily News:

A 12-year-old Queens girl was hauled out of school in handcuffs for an artless offense - doodling her name on her desk in erasable marker, the Daily News has learned.

Fortunately, poor Alexa Gonzalez was detained by the police for only a few hours before she was released to her mother, probably just before the girl was to be waterboarded in an effort to determine where she'd gotten the marker she'd used to wreak such havoc.  As the article tells us, this apparently isn't an isolated incident

In 2007, 13-year-old Chelsea Fraser was placed under arrest for writing "okay" on her desk at Intermediate School 201.  And in 2008, 5-year-old Dennis Rivera was cuffed and sent to a psych ward after throwing a fit in his kindergarten.

No word yet on whether the school district has revisited its "shoot-to-kill" policy for students caught running in the hallway.

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