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7th Circuit: Google v. Wikipedia citations

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Judges and appellate attorneys should feel free to include Google satellite photos in cases to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

But information from online dictionary Wikipedia could be crossing the line.

One of the 7th Circuit's most vocal jurists – Judge Richard A. Posner – has talked about both in recent newspaper stories and case opinions.

"Wikipedia is a terrific resource," Judge Posner said in a recent New York Times article. "Partly because it so convenient, it often has been updated recently and is very accurate." But, he added: "It wouldn't be right to use it in a critical issue. If the safety of a product is at issue, you wouldn't look it up in Wikipedia."

That story on Monday highlighted dangers about courts citing Wikipedia in decisions – something the Supreme Court of the United States has reportedly never done but more than 100 judicial rulings have relied on.

However, that hasn't stopped Judge Posner and colleagues from using information from Google – specifically a satellite photo of an area where a crime happened in Indianapolis. Judge Posner pointed to it as a resource that could have helped clarify facts in a recent case.

On Tuesday, Judge Posner wrote a majority opinion in U.S. v. Boyd that came from a 2005 ruling by U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker in Indianapolis. The case involved defendant Artemas Boyd, who fired a weapon into the air after leaving the Guvernment Bar and Lounge on East Market Street in downtown Indianapolis. Leaving about closing time, he and his girlfriend walked into an area behind the bar, where Boyd fired six shots into the air.

No one was injured, but he was charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon. In sentencing Boyd to 46 months in prison, the judge also determined he was committing another felony by recklessly performing an act "that creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person."

Boyd argued that given the hour and fact that no one else was in the direct line of fire, his shooting did not create a "substantial" risk of causing bodily injury.

In the ruling, the 7th Circuit panel wrote, "We are distressed at the sloppiness with which the case has been handled by both sides. Neither party attempted to quantify the risk created by the defendant's conduct; and vague words such as 'substantial' are not a satisfactory substitute for data ... ."

The judges included a Google earth photograph to show the potential "substantive" danger of Boyd's conduct with the weapon. He noted that Judge Barker did not offer any findings concerning the number of people nearby, nor did attorneys offer evidence about apartments or office buildings in the vicinity.

Judge Posner wrote, "Less forgivably – for the enormous variety of the circumstances in which random shooting occurs may defeat the efforts to estimate the probability that a given incident would result in injury – no satellite photo (available free of charge from Google) was placed in evidence to indicate the physical surroundings."

However, Judge Posner and the panel affirmed the lower court's decision: "Despite these gaps, we are reasonably confident that the Indiana courts would hold that firing multiple shots from a high-powered gun in downtown Indianapolis for no better reason than an excess of animal spirits creates a substantial risk of bodily injury within the meaning of the (state) statute."

 

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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