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back to article Juror jailed for looking up rape defendant on Google

A juror who used Google to search for a defendant in a rape case in Luton was jailed for six months yesterday for contempt of court. Academic Dr Theodora Dallas, 34, told fellow jurors that the man on trial for sexual assault had previously been accused of rape after finding a newspaper article about him on the internet. Her …

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Good!

'Theodora Dallas, 34, told fellow jurors that the man on trial for sexual assault had previously been accused of rape after finding a newspaper article about him on the internet'

'....but I honestly wasn't influencing anyone...I wasn't trying to put any sort of preconceived notions in anyones' heads - honest, guv!'

Good. I'm glad people are getting punished properly for contempt of court. Now all we need is the criminals in this country to get punished properly for contempt of victim.

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Why

Was this not brought to light in the case.

Is it illegal to say "oh and by the way, this fella has a history of this, look he was at it two years ago"

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Anonymous Coward

Yes. It predisposes the jury against a fair trial for the current offence based on the available evidence, collected by legal means. Hence, if someone can challenge how the evidence was gathered, e.g. illegal 'phone tapping, the charge can be dismissed Hearsay is not admissible and the British assumption is innocence until proved guilty.

I think that previous offences may be considered only in certain, very restricted and defined cases where it is relevant to the charge (not the judgement)..

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There could be several reasons...

IANAL - but I'm married to one...so I know a BIT about this.

1) He may have been accused of rape and found not guilty. If that's the case, it's certainly true that the previous case should have nothing to do with it.

2) In general a previous conviction has nothing to do with the current one. You've got to PROVE the case - and saying "well, look, it must have been him, he's done it all those other times" isn't proof that he did it this time. Having said that, a prosecutor CAN apply to get "previous bad character" in as supporting evidence - but there has to be a good justification.

Previous convictions ARE taken into account when sentencing, of course.

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The truth

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth - unless it's deemed unfair or prejudice. Having worked a a defence lawyer in the courts of London for a few years I would think that a huge amount of scum go free because the full facts are never heard.

Of course if you think the jury are so stupid they cannot evaluate things like past convictions then you may just get the criminal justice system you deserve.

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WTF?

@LordBrian

So you're in favour of scrapping the concept of Presumption of Innocence and instead going for a system of Guilt by Association??

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Anonymous Coward

Because

1) He quite possibly *wasn't* 'at it two years ago'.

2) The article could be about someone else with the same name.

3) Where would be the point in telling a jury this if it didn't influence them?

4) If it did influence them, the verdict would be biased by information irrelevant to the current case.

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@LordBrian

Your whole attitude proves that this information would influence a decision so I am baffled by your thinking. It is also a proven fact that information like this leads to miscarriages of justice, people start to think they might be letting a criminal go free and this sways their judgement.

Not to mention the fact that he was found innocent so in the eyes of the law it didn't happen.

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That's the kind of thing law students learn and not what happens in the real world. Often cases are bartered to a conclusion before a jury ever gets to hear them. And if you think previous character has nothing to do with the likelihood of offending well just go sit in on sentencing for a day or so.

It works both ways, having worked for a charity that looked at high profile appeals before the CRB maybe if all the evidence was initially disclosed we wouldn't need to pay billions to lawyers for appeals.

Positive PR by the legal system has kept the jury system sacrosanct but it is as fallible as any other system and having heard jury members discussing "he looks nice he could not have done it..." in the cafe really does fill you with confidence.

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@LordBrian

An unproven previous allegation of criminal behaviour says nothing about character. And I believe relevant previous convictions are already admissible as evidence of propensity?

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FAIL

I'll call your bluff..

I don't think you've ever worked as defence lawyer.

"Of course if you think the jury are so stupid they cannot evaluate things like past convictions"

for starters, juries are not told of previous convictions except in exceptional circumstances. Only once found guilty is this taken into account,.

"I would think that a huge amount of scum go free because the full facts are never heard."

Isn't this the point of obtaining evidence and not basing a case on hearsy and "lawyers" presumptions on what consitutes "scum". If that were the case, many of us would agree that the first people to be banged up should be many of the lawyers themselves.

"then you may just get the criminal justice system you deserve."

Good, I hope we do get the one where a person is entitled to a fair trial, regardless of what rumours someone has heard on the internet.

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ok then

it make non sense. the judge BIAS is judgement because of PREVIOUS conviction but the jury cannot? how more broken a justice system can be? more provision to protect the CRIMINAL.

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I'll bite with an LL.B and LL.M

"for starters, juries are not told of previous convictions except in exceptional circumstances. Only once found guilty is this taken into account" ... true and your point ?

"Isn't this the point of obtaining evidence and not basing a case on hearsy and "lawyers" presumptions on what consitutes "scum". If that were the case, many of us would agree that the first people to be banged up should be many of the lawyers themselves." ... if you think most trials are about evidence then please go to your local court and see how they work. Would not disagree with lawyers being banged up. They do their best to get an acquittal despite often knowing that the defendant is guilty.

"Good, I hope we do get the one where a person is entitled to a fair trial, regardless of what rumours someone has heard on the internet." ... no you get an adversarial system where parties try to suggest each other is lying and the truth is often overlooked. This isn't Judge John Deed, real life isn't all roses.

I once got a defendant a non custodial sentence for smashing a brick into his girlfriends face.... not a proud moment.

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@LordBrian (again)

As you'll be aware, it's an axiom of the criminal justice system is that nobody should go to jail unless it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that they performed a crime. That protects the liberty of everyone.

If you accept that principle should be protected then you accept that lawyers should be able to argue before the court simply that the evidence doesn't support a conviction. That's ethical even if the lawyer believes the client is guilty and in no way involves misleading or manipulating the court.

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Pint

RE: I'll call your bluff

I must agree with one of your comments.

As a juror in a criminal DUI trial over a decade ago, we were NOT aware that the defendant had previous convictions for DUI.

Based on the evidence presented in this case, and IN THIS CASE ONLY, we found the guy guilty. (P.S. The video of his staggering to "walk the line" did it. Only AFTER we rendered the guilty verdict, did we find out that he had FOUR previous DUI convictions. As we left the courtroom, if anyone had any doubts, that revelation (4 previous convictions) must have put them to rest.

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@Fatman

Experiences of a decade ago aren't so relevant — the Criminal Justice Act 2003 significantly changed the rules concerning the admissibility of evidence of bad character, which includes prior convictions. It was one of David Blunkett's sops towards the Daily Mail gang so the changes are all towards greater admissibility, albeit that they go nowhere near where the straw man Daily Mail reader would like.

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@ThomH I would not disagree with you but banging up a women for 6 months because she broke what I would regard as an outdated precedent just feels wrong when real nasty people go free.

The argument that she cost the taxpayer lots of money for a retrial is the same when the police or lawyers withhold evidence but very rarely are they even called to account or the judges that fall asleep in the middle of trials (been to two appeals where retrials were ordered) but didn't hear about them doing any hard time. I quite simply don't think the punishment fits the crime - yes fine her or community service but 6 months for me is way over the top.

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@LordBrian

The other big problem is that the police likely trawl through the "known offenders" first when looking for a suspect. This would increase the likelihood of a perp. with form being in the dock. In this light, the jury considering "previous" becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Just because they did it before doesn't mean that they did it this time, for the reasons above.

And it does not justify it EVEN IF you see cases where someone with form "got away with it". If the evidence is not strong enough to stand on its own, then it is not strong enough, full stop.

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For fuck's sake...

> the British assumption is innocence until proved guilty.

NO. It's innocent UNLESS proven guilty. Repeat after me: unless, unless, unless.

Saying "until" pre-supposes that you're already guilty. Saying "unless" indicates that you could be innocent or guilty.

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Headmaster

Unless

The very point I have made in comments on a number of occasions.

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If you believe that his sentence was too harsh please sign this petition in her support. Thanks.

http://www.change.org/petitions/kenneth-clark-justice-for-theodora-dallas-2?share_id=tSTOavMcDP&

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FAIL

You're finally twigging...

We live in a nation where people gawp and blather about the latest x-factor contestants or some idiots all sat round a fake campfire and asked to perform grotesque acts for 'entertainment'.

95+% of the people I used to know who lived in state housing were over-reactionary, ready-to-convict/assault/abuse/irreparably maim anyone on a made-up rumour of criminal activity that involved sexual misconduct.

If you genuinely believe that people aren't ready to convict on the basis of bloody-mindedness, rumour, lies, innuend or, tabloid bullsh*t then you must have been a dreadful lawyer.

I once sat on a jury where two women were ready to convict a young man on the basis that 'he just looks like the sort'. It took a lot of persuasion, and eventually scorn, before they woke up enough to read the facts of the case and not just listen to the (excessively overacted and blatantly overdone) sob story of the plaintiff.

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Vic
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> If you believe that his sentence was too harsh

I don't. I think it's about right, TBH.

The petition letter claims she was trying 'to clarify the accurate legal meaning of "grievous bodily harm" ' and she 'had no intention of influencing the jury'.

If this were true, the proper course of action would be to inform the Court (which had explicitly told her not to look stuff up), and to be very careful not to tell any other juror. But that is not the course she took.

That's not just an accidental occurrence; it is, at best, negligence. At its worst, it is disdain for the court system. Either of the above counts as "contempt of court".

Vic.

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FAIL

"I once got a defendant a non custodial sentence for smashing a brick into his girlfriends face.... not a proud moment."

No you didn't. He either pleaded guilty or was found guilty, and the sentence was not a matter for you. You just did your job, which was to defend him to the best of your ability. If the prosecution couldn't prove GBH, or the bench was too soft, that's not your problem.

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I don't know how she can claim "I didn't realise it was wrong.". When I did jury service, we were told once by the usher, by the judge at the start of the trial, and again by the judge before being sent home "Don't discuss the trial with anyone other then the rest of the jury, and don't look it up on the internet, facebook or twitter." You'd really have to struggle to not understand that.

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I came on to say the same: they made it very clear that looking up the case details online was a big no-no.

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Contempt of court

This makes me angry.

[rant]

I never was a big fan of jury trials. But do you seriously expect these people to base their decisions solely on the information they are given?

Of course the internet is full of lies. But so are most lawyers and a large number of witnesses. It's not as if you're not trusting your jurors to separate the truth from the lies. Why should jurors be required to base important decisions on a lack of pertinent information?

It seems to me that any court insisting on uninformed jury decisions deserves all the contempt we can muster.

[/rant]

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FAIL

@Martijn Bakker

"I never was a big fan of jury trials."

Really? So you prefer, instead, a kangaroo court or lynch mob where the defendant *may* get a chance to protest their innocence before they're "given a fair trial and then hanged"?

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@Martijn Bakker

"do you seriously expect these people to base their decisions solely on the information they are given?"

Yes, how is that even slightly difficult to comprehend? A judge rules on whether something is admissible in court, namely based on whether it is a legitimate piece of evidence. Someone being accused of something in the past is not a relevant piece of evidence and shouldn't be considered.

Lawyers from *both* sides put forward evidence. You're whinging as if only one side is put across and that jurors are being denied frivolous information. Juries are not "uninformed", they are informed of the pertinent pieces of information, not whatever they can find on Google or wikipedia. If past convictions or even accusations were even slightly relevant, we could save ourselves a whole lot of trouble and just wheel the same burglar into court for every breaking and entry charge.

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FAIL

You what??

"Of course the internet is full of lies. But so are most lawyers and a large number of witnesses."

Witnesses do lie, without a doubt. But, in court, lawyers don't. If they did, and it was discovered that they had lied, they would have the proverbial book thrown at them - not forgetting the cost to the public purse of a possible retrial.

And the suggestion that you go out and trawl the internet to find out what you can about the case is just stupid. If the information is pertinent, it will be used as evidence, either by the defence or the prosecution. If it is not, it won't. And if it's not been discovered by either the prosecution or the defence, why on earth do you think that a quick trawl on the internet by a juror will turn it up? Must more likely it'll turn up some information which makes it impossible to give the defendant a fair trial.

(By the way - if the prosecution has some evidence which will help the defence's case, they MUST disclose it to the defence. The defence has no such obligation. It's the job of the prosecution to PROVE the case.)

It is the job of the police to find the evidence. It is the job of the opposing counsels to put each side's case. It is the jury's job to listen to both sides, evaluate the evidence and to make the judgment.

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Vic
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> But do you seriously expect these people to base their decisions

> solely on the information they are given?

Yes.

HTH, HAND, etc.

Vic.

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@Martijn Bakker

The system of Jury trials is that the jury must be convinced, beyond all reasonable doubt, on the basis of the evidence that is presented before them, that the person is guilty. There are a number of things here that guard against arbitrary justice (mob rule, kangaroo courts or the decision of a single person).

Firstly the person must be proven guilty. Not proven innocent but proven guilty. Note that mob justice is often the other way round.

Secondly it is 'beyond reasonable doubt'. If a jury thinks 'he might have done it' then its not good enough to find the person guilty.

Thirdly it is 'on the basis of the evidence'. It is the job of the police and prosecution to gather and present evidence, the job of the defence to test that the evidence is properly gathered and not just made up. It is the job of the jury to listen to what is said and weigh up and make a decision based on what is said.

The system is imperfect. A lot of people who have committed a crime may go free. The lawyer may be rubbish and fail to extract proper witness evidence or highlight significant evidence. The police may fail to gather sufficient evidence. The jury may have a concious or unconcious bias (the accused was ugly/black/gay/a woman/looks like a criminal/done it before). But it's the system we have and it's a damn sight better than the knee jerk justice of mob rule.

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@Martijn Bakker

1) Yes: We do expect the jury to base their decisions solely on the information they are given *IN RELATION TO THE CURRENT CASE*. Unless there is evidence to support a link to a previous case, and said link is accepted by the Judge, then previous convictions and certainly accusations are irrelevant.

2) The Internet and the media are full of lies, half-truths, opinions and deceptions. You don't have to look far in the news to see examples of this, and unless you research those stories carefully, you'll be led to the wrong conclusion.

3) It's the courts' job is to filter out the misinformation and focus on the supportable facts. No personal opinions, beliefs or judgements: Just the facts. Professional opinions are allowed from independent witnesses, who may appear for the defense or prosecution, but are reminded to remain impartial.

4) It is the job of the prosecution and defense to ensure that all pertinent facts are presented.

5) The whole purpose of a trial is to ensure the jury can make an INFORMED decision. Otherwise why bother presenting the evidence to them?

Does that make sense now?

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@Nick 10

"I don't know how she can claim "I didn't realise it was wrong."."

She also tried to claim she misunderstood the instructions because she has a poor grasp of English, she's a university lecturer FFS!

I would have given her 6 months for contempt and another year for taking the piss.

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@Nick 10

And she's an academic!! I know we get undergrads applying to, and even entering our universities, unable to put a coherent sentence together or add fractions, but surely at the end of a university course things would have improved somewhat.

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FAIL

Says a lot about the University of Bedfordshire...

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JUROR JAILED FOR...

...TELLING FELLOW JURORS THAT SHE'D LOOKED UP RAPE DEFENDANT ON GOOGLE.

There fixed the headline for you.

I'd imagine that many jurors do their own research, despite being told not to. Most aren't so stupid as to tell anybody.

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Anonymous Coward

Eh?

Hope you are never allowed onto a jury.

Fair trial? Let's look it up on Wikipedia.

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Grasp of common sense

not that good either

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I'm sorry my English isn't good enough to understand the instructions given...

...but it's certainly good enough to understand what's being said in court about the case and what I read about the defendant on reliable news sources like Yahoo and The Sun.

....actually scratch that last bit.

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She was told

And now the state has to pay for another trial. Also, if her grasp of spoken English is not so good, why is she teaching psychology in the UK?

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More importantly if her understanding of spoken English was poor what was she doing on a jury. As a juror you must be able to understand the proceedings. If there is any impediment to your ability to understand court proceedings a potential juror should inform the court.

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@She was told

"Also, if her grasp of spoken English is not so good, why is she teaching psychology in the UK?"

Or indeed serving on the jury in the first place. If she was being truthful there then you'd have to wonder how she'd grasp the subtleties of the case if she couldn't grasp the subtleties of 'Don't look them up on the web'.

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MJI
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Poor English & Jury

I think they need to vet and test people before a trial.

Think of it this way.

Do you want an intelligent and dilligent person on the jury?

Do you want someone who does not fully understand what is happening?

Do you want a bigot?

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@disgruntled yank

The case has already had that second trial. This story could not be published until then as it could prejudice the case.

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Anonymous Coward

Dallas does disobedience

and promptly goes down.

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This seems to be happening quite a lot lately.

Incidentally though there was a case near us recently where a juror looked someone up and found evidence of convictions the defendant had as a child but which weren't allowed to be mentioned in court (the juror kept it to himself).

The defendant was found innocent after a witness for the prosecution was torn apart by the defense team over some minor convictions they had, it later came out in the open that he had been accused multiple times of rape and convicted as a young offender. The juror subsequently told the local paper what he found and wished he had risked the contempt of court.

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Headmaster

Evidence of past crimes and convictions is not evidence of guilt in the case before the court. It's really that simple. Past convictions may however be taken into account when sentencing if found guilty.

Evidence of past crimes and convictions may however affect the credibility of a witness which is why they may be unearthed with impunity.

In simplistic terms; the prosecution have to prove the defendant is lying and prove witness giving evidence against are not. The defence will seek to prove those witnesses are lying but don't have an obligation to prove the defendant isn't; innocent until proven guilty.

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"Wished he had risked the contempt of court"

Why? So he could have persuaded the rest of the jury to convict the defendant of crimes other than those for which he was on trial?

It's precisely because of that level of wilful stupidity that the penalties for jurors have to be so harsh.

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