Judges Can Use Google Too

Judges Can Use Google Too

How often are you pretty sure you are right about something – be it directions, a phone number, how many rounds there are in the NFL draft, etc – but you take a few seconds to make sure by running a Google search? This happens all the time; it is why Google is so great. You can be 90% sure about something, take 20 seconds to check Google, and then be 100% sure. It seems like

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everyone uses Google, the word has become a verb: “I think the Court’s filing deadline is 5pm, I’ll just Google it to make sure.”

So, if everyone uses Google to verify simple everyday facts, why can’t a judge do so with respect to judicial notice? In U.S. v. Bari, the second circuit reviewed the district court’ decision to verify “a matter of common knowledge” by running a quick Google search. Bari had been convicted of Bank Robbery in 1995. After serving thirteen years in prison, Bari was released from prison and began serving his supervised release term. In 2008, the United States Probation Office submitted to the district court an Amended Request for Court Action alleging that Bari had violated the terms of his supervised release by robbing a bank. The district court held a hearing to consider the allegations.

The district court judge ultimately found that Bari had violated his supervised release by robbing the bank. Particularly important to the judge was the fact that Bari matched the description of the man who robbed the bank and the fact that the robbery was caught on video and Bari looked like the man on the video. On appeal, however, Bari claimed that the judge violated the federal rules of evidence by searching Google to see how many variations of yellow hats are sold by various stores. The reason the judge looked to Google was because the bank robber had worn a yellow rain hat and the same style of hat was found in Bari’s landlord’s apartment. The judge had logically concluded that this was the hat that was worn during the bank robbery. To confirm his suspicion that it would too much of a coincidence for the same hat to be found where Bari lived, the district judge conducted a Google search to show how many different styles of hat are available – of course, his suspicion was confirmed when he saw that there are many different styles of yellow rain hats.

The second circuit agreed with the government that the rules of civil procedure are relaxed in a hearing considering violations of the terms of supervised release. Further, under Rule 201, the “court may take judicial notice, whether requested or not.” So long as the fact is a matter of common knowledge, the judge may take judicial notice. Here, it is common knowledge that there exists more than one style of yellow rain cap. The appeals court agreed that the district court took judicial notice of this fact. The judge’s Google search was merely a confirmation of his inclination that there are many styles of yellow rain caps, and that finding the precise style in Bari’s landlord’s apartment was not simple coincidence. As such, the court held that the Google search was not reversible error and as a result, denied Bari’s appeal.

Judge’s are just like everyone else, they eat, they sleep, they use Google to confirm their suspicions. This case makes it clear that a judge is not prohibited from using Google to confirm a fact that is common knowledge in a hearing considering the violation of supervised release.

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