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Search engines and the courts

Declan McCullagh of CNET News writes about the use of search engines in judicial research and how results has affected actual cases.

A couple of excerpts:

To be sure, Google has no monopoly in the legal system. Yahoo's search engine popped up in the landmark Napster copyright case four years ago, and Oregon police tried to track a criminal defendant accused of firearm violations through Yahoo searches. When AltaVista was in its heyday, it also was mentioned in a handful of cases.

But in the last few years, Google appears to have become the courts' favorite search engine. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company--which announced its plans for an initial public offering last month--accounts for 41 percent of U.S. search referrals, according to statistics compiled by research company WebSideStory.


Rules governing out-of-court research are ambiguous about the use of search engines and, in the United States, tend to vary by state. In general, though, appeals courts have leeway in the sources they use. "Often appellate arguments require going outside the record of a particular case, because a judge or a panel must weigh the ramifications. What does this mean down the road?" said Dick Carelli, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOC). "Tradition dictates that anything is fair game in terms of the research a judge or a judge's staff can do online."

Well. I think we need to send Gary Price in to teach them good search and evaluation skills (because Google is so NOT LexisNexis or WestLaw) and emphasize that there's more out there than Google. Oh wait, he already knows. Go get 'em, Gary!


Mind you, these judges are NOT using Google or search engines to perform legal research, they are using them to do non-legal research. There is a big difference.

Very true. I did not meant to imply that legal research (i.e. searching for laws/cases/etc. that could provide precedent to the case at hand) was being done via standard search engines. On the other hand, the article does emphasize that what the judges are finding via search engines have either influenced their decisions or has helped them justify the decisions they made.

Thank you, Justice Hand.