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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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  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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