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The Internet On Trial

Don't get too interested in a court case, if you're a juror.Or at least confine your interest to the courtoom itself.

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Don't get too interested in a court case, if you're a juror.

Or at least confine your interest to the courtoom itself.

That's the lesson derived from the experience of Marvin Gittens, a juror in the trial involving Lillo Brancato, once an actor in the HBO Mafia family series, "The Sopranos." Branco, who portrayed a young mobster who eventually ends up dead, is charged with suspicion of murdering an off-duty cop, Daniel Enchautegui.

Gittens, it appears, got into the case more than the average juror. He began to research the case, after leaving the jury box, on the Internet. And bringing notes back to the court, based on that research.

That's never going to fly, in a court of law.

Jurors can't go get their own "evidence." The evidence on which they will make up their minds about guilt or innocence can and should come only from within the confines of the court.

According to the court, notes are permissible, but only from within the jury box. When you leave the box, you turn in the notes and when you come back, you get them back. They can never leave the "custody and control" of the court.

What comes in across the wire or over the air on the Internet never is in the "custody" or "control" of the court. Most difficult to start with is, of course, double-checking the veracity of any "fact" you find on the Internet. As far as you know, it's only pixels on a screen. A replica of a document, a replica of a fact, that has to be tracked to its origin. Did you catch that report on the $100 PC coming out soon (supposedly) from an outfit called Colby Electronics? Not true.

And even if the fact you find turns out to be true, it makes no difference. It's not a juror's duty to bring in damning or exculpatory evidence. Indeed, nothing a juror brings in is evidence.

If you think you can help convict someone or help get them off the hook, don't. In this case, a mistrial almost got called.

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Yes, the Internet is the most powerful research tool out there. But, if you use it to affect the conduct of justice, you, in effect, become a digital vigilante.

Firing up a computer, while a person is on trial, is -- intentionally or not -- taking the law into your hands.

Fahgettaboutit.