The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned six guilty verdicts in a 2010 high-profile cockfighting trial because of a rogue juror’s use of the Internet during supposedly sealed-off jury deliberations.
That juror, known only as Juror 177, then shared with some fellow members what he had learned on Wikipedia before the guilty verdicts were reached. Jurors were allowed to go home nightly during the six-day, and that is where the juror did his research.
The panel noted the rogue juror — who was fined and sentenced to 50 hours’ community service once his actions came to light — had disregarded Currie’s instructions against independent research in looking up the word in Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia.
“The danger in relying on a Wikipedia entry is obvious and real,” the panel wrote, noting what it called the website’s “lack of reliability.” Wikipedia entries are written anonymously and subject to being edited without notice and without anyone’s easily being able to know what has been changed from day to day, the panel said.
There was no evidence showing the guilty verdicts were obviously tainted by the juror’s actions, the panel said.
But the ideal of a free trial is so important that in this case, the panel noted, the prosecution was unable to show the verdicts were not influenced unfairly.
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