Monday, September 29, 2008

Circumstantial Evidence

As the Los Angeles Times explains, there are a number of ways that profile pages on social network sites are playing a role in the criminal and civil justice system. "Jury duty? You may want to edit your online profile" describes how trial consultants are searching online sources for clues to how potential jurors might approach a specific case and its associated deliberative processes in order to select jurors more likely to support a particular verdict. For example, in a case about a "lucrative Internet dating service" that had copied the "client's search engine accelerator without paying for it, the reporter recounts the following anecdote from a consultant.

As he now does routinely, Hirschhorn went online to learn more about the prospective jurors. On the pageant supplier's business website, he found something he thought could bode well for his client. The septuagenarian, it turned out when he asked her about what he had learned online, had spent a lifetime marketing exclusive sequined gowns for beauty contestants only to have them copied without compensation.

"We loved her," said Hirschhorn, who has been profiling jurors for more than two decades. "She told this story about how she would show these dresses to someone who claimed not to be interested and the next thing you know the same design would show up on a contestant. . . . It's all about accusing people of using your property without permission."

Now consultants associated with the National Legal Resource Center claim that Facebook and MySpace have become important sites to check to gain an advantage during voir dire by anticipating possible consequences created by the selection of individual jurors who make private details public online.

In "Pregnant woman gets probation in fatal crash," the accused woman's MySpace profile was pointed to by many as evidence that she was unrepentent about her excessive drinking even after killing a bystander pedestrian during a drunk driving accident. Nonetheless, this defendent was granted leniency by a judge, who considered the fact of her pregnancy and the biological state of her material body more important than her virtual presence.

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