Web Activity Used in Court to Portray State of Mind

I don't care about the case, but look at this:

"Among the details police have released is that Harris and his wife, Leanna, told them they conducted Internet searches on how hot a car needed to be to kill a child. Stoddard testified Thursday that Ross Harris had visited a Reddit page called "child-free" and read four articles. He also did an Internet search on how to survive in prison, Stoddard said.

"Also, five days before Cooper died, Ross Harris twice viewed a sort of homemade public service announcement in which a veterinarian demonstrates on video the dangers of leaving someone or something inside a hot car."

Stoddard is a police detective. It seems that they know about his web browsing because they seized and searched his computer:

...investigators confiscated Harris' work computer at Home Depot following his arrest and discovered an Internet search about how long it would take for an animal to die in a hot car.

Stoddard also testified that Harris was "sexting" -- is this a word we use in court now? -- with several women on the day of his son's death, and sent explicit pictures to one of them. I assume he knows that by looking at Harris's message history.

A bunch of this would not be admissible in trial, but this was a probable-cause hearing, and the rules are different for those. CNN writes: "a prosecutor insisted that the testimony helped portray the defendant's state of mind and spoke to the negligence angle and helped establish motive."

This case aside, is there anyone reading this whose e-mails, text messages, and web searches couldn't be cherry-picked to portray any state of mind a prosecutor might want to portray? (Qu'on me donne six lignes écrites de la main du plus honnête homme, j'y trouverai de quoi le faire pendre. -- Cardinal Richelieu.)

Posted on July 4, 2014 at 6:24 AM • 54 Comments


AllenJuly 4, 2014 6:43 AM

Yes, I had the same thoughts. So much of this 'investigation' was concerning to me. Now, in the back of my mind I am thinking "How can my searches be interpreted?"

At other levels, there are many problems. His 'work computer', I have seen many people in retail share accounts. This is very bad, but common place. Also, I know most web browsers save web history, but I didn't think they stored the contents of the web search itself. I thought that (at least for google), that is going through https.

There are many inconsistancies in how the police are reporting their investigation and how the media is reporting it.

WmJuly 4, 2014 6:55 AM

Good article as an example to the innocent to use a VPS proxy, with non or low latency logging to serf the web. However, the case against this guy seems just.

Peter SommerJuly 4, 2014 7:45 AM

English law has particular arrangements for "bad character" evidence, which is what this is. Criminal Justice Act, 2003 sections 98-113. The evidence can only be introduced by the leave of the court and the legislation lists the tests that must be applied. The Crown Prosecution Service (roughly analogous to the District Attorney) provides guidance at http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/a_to_c/bad_character_evidence/

And computer evidence, including web browsing, is often used. I deal with it as an expert witness. There is an opportunity for the defence to rebut, for example on the basis that the prosecution has been selective in presenting browsing activity and that there is a wider context

SJuly 4, 2014 7:46 AM

@Wm, that response is exactly the problem. You don't have a complete picture.

uh, MikeJuly 4, 2014 7:47 AM

All we are going on (ever go on?) is the news reports from a hysterical, think-about-the-children news machine.

Still, we would not be hearing about what books this guy looked at in a library, and there's a reason for that. We would like that reason to extend to the electronic environment.

Thanks for noting that this is not criminal court (yet). Criminal court is far down the rabbit hole, and seems to be a blunt instrument for justice anymore.

francJuly 4, 2014 7:50 AM

To paraphrase the late Robert Anton Wilson -

Give me the time and the resources and I can prove Jesus Christ was Bugs Bunny

This is the real danger of wholesale data hoovering. You can prove anything you want with selective editing. I consider my own position - I have had an interest in islamist extremism since well before 9/11. I have copies of _Inspire_, the Al Qaeda poisons handbook, a complete archive of bin Laden's and al-Zawahiri's written sermons and that's the tip of the iceberg. Some of this material dates back 20 years, to usenet and old ftp sites. Turning me into a monster would take zero effort. If the law was sensible, this type of off-the-shelf ability to smear would be prohibited from legal proceedings. Unfortunately, most of our judges are from the era of pianola rolls and have no idea of where tech has taken us.

StoddardJuly 4, 2014 7:50 AM

[...] also testified that STODDARD was "sexting" [...]
As in Stoddard, the police detective who testified?!

DaveJuly 4, 2014 8:10 AM

Torn. Very torn. As both a parent of young kids and someone who wants my privacy and my nation back, it's cognitive dissonance daily with this story.

Yes. The coverage of this incident is hysterical click-bait.

But I'll worry about leaving a kid in the car 'til they can unstrap and find a way out themselves. Then I'll worry about whether they'll pick the highway-side door or the sidewalk. Then about who they'll ask for help.

Would I worry so that I'd search for the details? I haven't. But would I do so now that the click-bait stories are talking about this guy? What prompted his search?

The Mrs. and I commonly search on the same stuff during a phone conversation. It's not collusion, it's natural behavior.

Have I typed queries that could be interpreted in several ways? I have. Can't remember a get-me-arrested one, but I am certain I've had some get-me-fired ones at work. (Apparently nobody was looking). Last night I looked for "mortise joint" and got tons of woodworking pages, vs. the orthopedic stuff I wanted. If I loosened to "joint" just before something awful happens, was I searching for drugs?

Is THAT all it takes to have probable cause now? If I give up and live a non-connected life, am I now a suspicious character?

Suzanne Lander July 4, 2014 8:21 AM

In this case I think they were prompted by immediate physical findings (the guy getting into a smelly car with the child in rigor mortis and driving off before stopping in another parking lot) before looking into his search history. But I do agree that it's an easily manipulated thing. And I can't see how the sexting would be related at all. Plenty of jerks would never consider killing their kids.

George H.H. MitchellJuly 4, 2014 8:25 AM

That you can see into a person's mind based on what the person has browsed on the net (or read in the library or rented from the video store, etc.) is an attractive proposition for the same reason that we want to believe we can detect lying based on physical symptoms.

MaryJuly 4, 2014 8:30 AM

Wasn't something like this a movie plot already? Someone disappears or gets murdered. The primary suspect has incriminating but unrelated search info and other data on how to dispose of bodies, etc, but has been collecting that info as research material for a novel they were writing. (Or so they claimed.)

On the other hand, we may be getting closer to The Minority Report....

ATNJuly 4, 2014 8:39 AM

@Peter Sommer
> And computer evidence, including web browsing, is often used.

The day you agree to use a computer, you legally agree to the licenses which clearly states there cannot be something resembling an evidence on a computer (or any computerized device).

Moreover, the day a third party analyze someone else computer, the third party has clearly agreed to licenses from a lot of companies which explicitly say any hard drive connected to the system can be changed at any time, WHATSOEVER.

A single company displaying on a computer screen that nothing will be changed on the target hard disk on a nice green banner is NOT a respectable or even trust-able company.

Bruce SchneierJuly 4, 2014 8:41 AM

"As in Stoddard, the police detective who testified?!"

Thanks. Fixed.

BillRMJuly 4, 2014 9:14 AM

Well I been running over in my mind how my computers searches could be edited together to paint one hell of an evil picture of myself and it would not help either my having a few issue of Inspire magazine somewhere on my drives.

Thank god for whole drive encryption and for that matter browser sandboxes that wiped everything that been done on line after a browsing session.

DGJuly 4, 2014 10:35 AM

Using information from various sources - digital, non digital, human intelligence - is common practice.
The risk of filtering information to draw a particular picture is allways present and has been present over the last centuries.

From the information I got, I do not see a big deal here. There is a reasonable suspicion, there is a warrant and the investigators are securing the evidence.
The mindset of an suspected murderer is an important factor to determine further strategies and the suspects criminal liability.

zJuly 4, 2014 10:42 AM

You can paint any picture you want of a person with a carefully selected portion of their browsing history.

What if a father of a child with a peanut allergy Googles peanut allergies and his child subsequently has a reaction? Is he now automatically presumed at fault because of a search he made?

Parents search for all kinds of things relating to safety of their children and using those searches to condemn them if something bad happens is a can of worms that should never be opened.

Clive RobinsonJuly 4, 2014 11:09 AM

Whilst I find the idea of prosecuters trying to throw everything no mater how improbable at the wall to see if they can get it to stick as faux coroberating evidence unplesent and worse than the behaviour of some gutter journalists it is not new.

The US justice system is anything but just, it's more like a game of "points make prizes". The aim is entirely to find guilty the person who is least able to defend themselves for the proscution who's career prospects depend almost entirely on the number and size of the scalps on their belts. For many on the defence side it's getting bigger money clients or other bankable benifit. Thus those who end up being court asigned defenders know that to keep their jobs they have to get cases over as quickly as possible to keep up their asigned work load.

Thus justice usually is a commodity not a right. Likewise it appears that some judges are not immune to incentives if some reporting is to be believed, apparently money is to be made from sending people to prison for long periods via the private companies that run prisons from public funds. So it's not in the interests of those who pay tax any more than it is justice. Likewise politicos want long sentances and for people to be forced into becoming either long term criminals or three strikes and out lifers, by the simple technique of striping offenders of as many societal rights as possible such that reintergration is impossible without the support of others, which many at what we call the bottom of society do not have, thus they have the stark choice of crime or die. Which makes them extreamly vulnerable to being in effect preyed upon and used for fronting high risk crime such as drug dealing, shop based payment fraud or various money laundering and credit card fraud etc.

Whilst none of this is new, the power of near indelible records of our every move makes this more and more likely.

For instance "mobile phone" records being used by prosecution to say a person was at the scene of a crime as their phone was registered to an adjacent mobile phone tower. This is a compleat nonsense as even in heavily built up areas you could still be over seven miles away. The FBI supposedly have a data base of "tested" data from "field surveys" the problem is it is neither current or accurate, and does not in any way reflect the dynamic nature of the mobile networks that can flick you from tower to tower that may be many miles appart at a millisecond interval. Which if you think about it makes the journy time improbable for even a "caped crusader". The presenting officer/prosecuter will often neglect to mention this or even present the full records to the defense even if the defender has the sense/knowledge to request them.

HopbellJuly 4, 2014 12:04 PM

Yep. I'm curious how deep this will go. The police seem to know not only the videos he watch but the duration of his viewing. I believe this is a cautionary tale about how much we leave behind.

RJDJuly 4, 2014 2:38 PM

Oh come on. I lean somewhat towards viewing the ACLU has heroes in most cases, but I grow weary of this false indignation. It reminds me of the Tea Pots and religious oppressors claiming victim-hood with their perpetual fake outrage if limited in their infliction of their choices onto others.

No, you cannot make my web browsing look like I planned literally to cook my kid in a car. There might be some embarrassing proclivities that in my opinion need not be publicized, legal but few knew my interests were THAT liberal, but,really, no roast kid.

RJDJuly 4, 2014 2:42 PM

Oh yeah, and you can't make it look like I abuse squids or attempt to abuse squids. Cook them, perhaps. Actually not, I don't like eating them at all. No squid abuse, can't be done. That Schneier guy, now there is somebody who seems obsessed, but that is a matter of public record no matter who reads it.

Impossibly StupidJuly 4, 2014 2:53 PM

The key concept here is "cherry-picked". To defend yourself, all that *should* be required is to put your activity into a greater context and/or otherwise explain it as what it is rather than what it seems to be. Part of that would likely fitting things into a timeline; if a single search happened a week before the incident during the broadcast of a news story about a similar accident, it really doesn't speak to the state of the person's mind at the time of the incident. Both sides can use the browser history and correlate it with all sorts of other information to build a "full" picture.

To go even further, I would say this can't be evidence unless other data is gathered to determine what a normal, control group behavior is. How many other people have searched for information about animals dying in hot cars over the past day/week/month? Is there even any correlation across the population with similar crimes? Without better data, this is like a damn horoscope: if there was something to it, you could work backwards from my traits to my sign and not just use it as a one-way function in the other direction.

AnuraJuly 4, 2014 3:36 PM

Recently I have searched to see if quicklime actually worked for disposing bodies or was just a movie myth. Also, given some umm... other sites I visit regularly, I could probably be easily painted as a serial killer. I also listen to metal and play violent video games, which everyone who watches the news knows that turns everyone into psychopaths.

NobodySpecialJuly 4, 2014 5:29 PM

@RJD - I can make it look like you were intending to commit computer fraud, or espionage, or treason because you visited pages about computer security linked to pages about NSA spying techniques and how to avoid them. Who else but a crook or a terrorist would do that?

DBJuly 4, 2014 5:37 PM

This particular case is not in and of itself a bad thing. They had suspicion due to other factors, got warrants, etc... This is the way it SHOULD work.

However... the reality is that our actions, out of context, CAN be used to paint any picture you want... and therefore emphasizing that can highlight exactly why SUSPICIONLESS MASS surveillance over EVERYONE'S ACTIONS worldwide, is a **VERY** **BAD** thing... because that enables fishing expeditions where they cull the data looking for people who MIGHT have committed (or MAYBE will commit) crimes based on innocent actions, and harass or toss those in prison too. Those corporate prisons need to stay in business and grow somehow, after all...

This is the VERY REASON why the founding fathers of the USA created the 4th amendment, to deny the government the ability to do fishing expeditions like that with "general warrants"... Anyone who argues differently is a moron, and there are many such morons in our government. Please don't any of you be one too.

concerned citizenJuly 4, 2014 6:39 PM

I just don't think this is the case to use as an example. I'm very concerned about government spying, NDAA, and so forth. My search history might embarrass me, but I can't see it being used as evidence against me. I realize this might sound like, "If you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear," but because of the nature of the searches which were admitted to, and the physical evidence of the crime itself, added to the fact that the alibi did not make sense, I'm cool with the pigs just shooting the parents right in the face and putting them in a tree shredder.

ThothJuly 4, 2014 7:41 PM

If they can't find you guilty enough, they will always try finding. If it means something to them enough, they will try making you guilty (fabricating evidences) just for personal gain. There are always possibilities that can be used against an innocent person and history have shown that innocent people are the most easiest to bring down. Some form of self protection (keeping privacy and security on a personal level) is needed to deny certain personal information that can be used / misused against you in court of law. Imagine that you are an opposition in a political campaign and you have just setup your new political movements. What the big boys in town can do is pull all your records, bug you, fabricate evidences and close your shop. It is fair game to them that their "profit margin" are kept undisturbed (in the sense that they would always be empowered). May be you are an innocenrt bystander but one of your friends is a wanted target for political meddling by the powers that be and your privacy weakness might result in them suffering as well. Personal security isn't done just for your own sake. A properly implemented personal security setup would also close any holes that may lead to your dear ones near you being affected because of you.

GodelJuly 4, 2014 7:42 PM

@ uh, mike

"Still, we would not be hearing about what books this guy looked at in a library, and there's a reason for that. We would like that reason to extend to the electronic environment."

The police have certainly used information on what books a suspect has been reading, when that information exists. If your spouse has recently died mysteriously and you've been borrowing books from the library on exotic poisons, you can be sure they'll take notice.

nycmanJuly 4, 2014 10:29 PM

I'm more worried about so called "predictive analytics" that some companies are hawking to HR departments. Apparently it can predict when an employee will go bonkers, or quit or a number of other things. It's based on web surfing, email activity, etc. The idea is to throw out somebody before they cause any damage. It's not based on what the employee does or has said, but inferred from statistical relationships....He went to a site about bad bosses, so the guy must be planning to shoot the place up.

DBJuly 4, 2014 10:50 PM

@ Godel

But we shouldn't be auto investigating EVERYONE who has ever researched anything about poisons, and trying to pin crimes on as many of those as we can!!! Yet this is exactly where our government is headed if we don't reign it in!

@ concerned citizen

You're right, this may not be the case to use to try to make the point I just made to Godel, because people just aren't getting it. But neither is it the case to use to defend our government's use of immoral and disastrous-to-society general warrants, because general warrants were not used in this case, as far as I know.

65535July 4, 2014 10:53 PM

“This case aside, is there anyone reading this whose e-mails, text messages, and web searches couldn't be cherry-picked to portray any state of mind a prosecutor might want to portray? (Qu'on me donne six lignes écrites de la main du plus honnête homme, j'y trouverai de quoi le faire pendre."
-Bruce S

The key phrase “cherry picking.”

I believe that what you are seeing a number of court precedent’s built to encourage military style surveillance in civilian cases – and build to produce a long history of such court decisions.

This is not by chance. It is clever way of allowing bulk surveillance [the infamous data dragnet] via law enforcement and military enforcement to be applied to civilians in the USA.

I notice how these sensational cases seem to be “cut-and-dried” for the government on the surface. The other side is not disclosed.

Once, the lower courts condone this type of surveillance the higher court could agree. This must be opposed. If not all conversations, text messages, email and the like will be open to full military style surveillance.

WaelJuly 4, 2014 11:10 PM

@ nycman,

I'm more worried about so called "predictive analytics" [...] The idea is to throw out somebody before they cause any damage
Perhaps your concern isn't misplaced. We're scheduled to be there in about forty years! If you want to see how our future will look like, watch some sci-fi movies. People in power and decision makers watch them too, it would so seem!

@Mike the goat,
See! Another example of movies becoming reality. This one has not "fully" occurred yet, but all current indications support the possibility.

BuckJuly 4, 2014 11:45 PM


I'm more worried about so called "predictive analytics" that some companies are hawking to HR departments. Apparently it can predict when an employee will go bonkers, or quit or a number of other things.
If you replace the ridiculous notion of being able to comprehend the psyche of another being with ... a modern twist on the more traditional definition of a blacklist, it all starts to make a lot more sense! ;-)

DGJuly 5, 2014 12:47 AM

> The key phrase “cherry picking.”

This might look like cherry picking to some people.
I see it in a different way. The prosecuter have to collect all evidence to open a murder case. Providing proof for 'planning' and 'preparation' is a major factor to this.

Without this evidence the suspect may argue like this:
the child was asleep in the back of the car, I was distracted by sexting with that hot chick and forgot about my child in the back ... I am so sorry, I feel so bad ...

badass troll wannabeJuly 5, 2014 8:43 AM

Anyone using Windows should be jailed for stupidity.

Post Scriptum: that is why you always put random out of the blue searches between real ones.

Jack MarrJuly 5, 2014 3:15 PM

Remember Steven Hatfill from the 2001 Anthrax case? I seem to remember something similar before he mounted an aggressive defense and was exhonerated. Among the evidence, they had found some old document of his that had a word similar to an address that the perpetrator would know about.

Psych SurvivorJuly 5, 2014 5:24 PM

As Andrew said, this is nothing new. It's the quackery of psychology/psychiatry being used to "predict" future behavior based on past behavior. In this case, the "past behavior" is Google searches, but courts have been using all kinds of other past behavior ("metadata collection" anyone???) to make unscientific claims about future behavior against which people have no valid defenses other than having a different psychologist/shrink testifying the opposite to what the charging psychologist/shrink testifies.

50 years ago, the great Thomas Szasz already coined the term The Therapeutic State in which psychiatry/psychology are used to do social control. It has been going on for a while. What makes cases like this different (a similar technique was used without much success against Casey Anthony) is the technology used to analyze "past behavior". At core, this is based on the "illusion" that human beings do not have free will and have "predictable behavior" that can be accurately predicted based on past behavior.

Mitch Guthman July 5, 2014 8:25 PM

This doesn't seem particularly inappropriate from a civil liberties perspective. It's all done by search warrants granted by neutral and detached magistrates based on particularized suspicion in regards of a specific, publicly disclosed crime. In what way is this "cherry picking"? Or, to put it another way, wouldn't this invocation of Richelieu's maxim apply with equal force to every criminal case brought since the dawn of time?

There are really only two possible interpretations of his having viewed the videos. Assuming that his viewing and web searches can be properly authenticated, they both put him in an extremely unfavorable light and both are legal significant. The most charitable explanation is that he wanted to know more about how dangerous it is to leave a child in a car in a hot climate like Atlanta.

Having heightened his awareness of the danger, however, it was extraordinary reckless to have left his child in a hot car as he did. I don't know anything about Georgia criminal law, so I have no way of knowing whether such a reckless disregard for his son's life (standing alone) would suffice for some type of manslaughter but it certainly would in most states. Ross Harris's visit to the Reddit page suggests an even more disturbing interpretation, namely, that he murdered his helpless son by, essentially, roasting the child alive.

Ross Harris is either the unluckiest (criminally negligent) man alive or he is a monster. I don't think Richelieu's maxim applies here at all.

ElectricianJuly 5, 2014 9:12 PM

In case of doubt, stay with the facts.
The article does not mention how this evidence was interpreted, most readers seem to suppose there is only one possible interpretation. Evidence, statements and their respective context do matter...

If the difference between negligence and intent is knowledge, such evidence puts statements in a different context. How does such evidence tally with the statements that were made before?

JoeJuly 5, 2014 9:49 PM

I hate wholesale data-hoovering, but this? This seems like a legit investigation to me. If they introduce this in court, he can always argue the cherry picking or give his reasons for doing that. This looks like legitimate suspicion to me.

It's one thing to harvest everyone who looks for something weird on the internet, it's another thing to point out that he, at the very, very least should have known better than to leave his kid in that car.

JoeJuly 5, 2014 9:57 PM

I should also mention that I'm not usually impressed by some of the findings trotted out in these investigations. One example that springs to mind is that investigators can find "bomb making materials" in anyone's house. Normal household cleaners suffice for that. It's more of a challenge finding someone who doesn't have those. The chances of that are basically 100% and I would have to see more than merely that to count it against someone.

But I can only see two cases here: he's either guilty because it was premeditated murder, or he's guilty because he was negligent. Yes, the punishments are different, but I have to believe this is a legitimate line of inquiry.

I should also note that Google itself has an important piece of evidence. With regards to whether or not this is cherry picking, it should not be too difficult to see exactly how probable it is that someone at random would have searched for similar terms. You can look at trends and everything, so we do not and should not guess about just how incriminating this is. We can find out definitively if they spend a bit of time with Google's search tools.

LeilaJuly 6, 2014 3:22 PM

First, I don't think there is anything especially new about drawing on web searches in a murder investigation. I've seen it before, and not just in the obvious terrorism cases. But more to the point, there is lot more circumstantial and other evidence than what he looked up and what he watched. The wider context makes this very unlike cherry picking. Eg. he took out insurance policies on his toddler, along with looking at stuff about being child-free, and hot-car deaths. That's documented. Less able to verify are claims that he showed no emotion and didn't cry about the death of his child, but was very concerned about being arrested and the impact on his job.

Just thinking about what that child went through as he died...and his expectation, I'm sure, of his father coming to help. I'm sorry. I believe very strongly in online privacy and detest the abuses of the surveillance state, but this was well within the bounds of looking for probable cause to charge him.

Cher Monsieur Schneier, il n'y a pas de fumée sans feu.

Mitch Guthman July 6, 2014 3:56 PM


Unless his Google searches turned up only a bunch of lunatics claiming excellent credentials, such as being pediatricians, who said that young children could safely be left in a hot cars for hours, it's difficult to imagine an exculpatory interpretation.

The point isn't that he searched for this information. Any responsible parent might well be interested in whether it's safe to leave a child in the car while, say, picking up the dry cleaning. The point is what he did with that knowledge. He promptly left his child in a very, very hot car where he was roasted alive.

There is no purely innocent explanation of any of his web searches. Either he recklessly left his child in the hot car while the dangers of doing so must have been fresh in his mind or he deliberately murdered his child because the kid was putting a crimp in his lifestyle

If you can conjure up an explanation that beats both reckless endangerment and first degree murder, I would like to hear it.

SkepticalJuly 6, 2014 5:07 PM

In fairness to Schneier, he did write this case aside when he asked whether web searches could not be cherry-picked to make anyone look guilty of something.

The answer is that they could be, but in an open, adversarial system, or for that matter, legitimate and fair inquisitorial system, they would also be exposed as cherry-picking. It is still instructive to imagine the extent to which an individual could be falsely characterized by a misleading sample of web searches.

The nature of the crime alleged in this case, of course, makes it difficult to put it aside and focus on the general question. But then were one to dwell only on this case in particular as described in the article, one might wish that slow execution by heat were a legal punishment in Georgia. Who knows though. Perhaps the accused is, as portrayed, a sociopath who saw this as a logical way of removing an obstacle to his desires and who is deserving of a novel method of execution - or perhaps he's suffered multiple traumatic brain injuries, has documented and severe lapses in memory and attention, and has found himself in the nightmare of having committed the very thing he prepared against.

I don't know which is the case. We are fortunate to live in a system where we can be confident that a defense attorney would shout from the rooftops any evidence of the latter possibility.

Keith AJuly 7, 2014 3:09 AM

@ Clive R
re > Likewise it appears that some judges are not immune to incentives if some reporting is to be believed, apparently money is to be made from sending people to prison for long periods via the private companies that run prisons from public funds.

Another (and maybe even stronger as not a visibly job losing strategy) incentive is that we often see driving Security theatre: Cover Your Ass.
If the Jury acquit the judge has no risk. But if guilty, the Judge must be sure that they are away for as long as necessary to ensure that no came can be laid at their feet for any crime committed post release.
Is not a jury trial, then the judge has to be sure that he carries no blame if he gets it wrong – best option is to sentence.

Debt serfJuly 7, 2014 11:06 AM

The difference between all of these posters' searches, and the perps searches, is that the perp had a dead kid in his vehicle.

AdrianJuly 7, 2014 12:03 PM

I wrote a mystery novel that involved murder by bathtub electrocution. When doing research, I did a web search for "bathtub electrocution." The top hit (then) was a news story about a man convicted of electrocuting his wife in the bathtub after doing a web search for "bathtub electrocution."

BillJuly 7, 2014 8:01 PM

I find the responses here strange, starting with the statement that "I don't care about the case". Unless the article is totally wrong it seems to be a case of criminal negligence even if it's entirely an accident, and there seems to be strong reason to suspect, just from the plain facts of the case, that it's not an accident. Of course the police have to investigate, and they have to look at intent because it's an integral part of the suspected crime of murder.

Coyne TibbetsJuly 9, 2014 7:24 AM

Worse, there would probably be a reciprocity problem. Just imagine:

The prosecutor, presents the messages and searches to show "state of mind" and argues that it is admissible. When the defense tries to admit other messages or searches to offset the image portrayed, the prosecutor argues that the other messages show nothing and are irrelevant; or are too private to be shown; or are "illegally obtained".

Hopefully the judge would see the dichotomy, but these days you never know.

ellaJuly 9, 2014 12:34 PM

Legally, it is not a question of portraying intent but rather of proofing intent based upon the suspect's action before the event that gave rise to the criminal charges.

SimonJuly 9, 2014 2:07 PM

@Bruce: Makes me think about your earlier texts about politicians wanting investigators/intelligence agencies to be better at "connecting the dots" in relation to data mining - I'm not speaking of this specific case, but this sort of investigation and use of the evidence not only helps the investigator connecting the dots, but picking whatever dots he like to make the image look like whatever he want.

vas pupJuly 9, 2014 2:23 PM

@Psych Survivor.
This 'father' should be subject to forensic psychological/psychiatric evaluation taking into consideration nature of event with evaluation of his memory (forgetfulness), attention deficits, personality, etc. in order to get professional opinion on mental side of his mens rea (criminal intent) in this case (reckless or intentional). That is more informative than searches on the web, text messages, other circumstantial evidence (but that is just my opinion). I wish that regardless of the outcome of the trial, image of this poor kid will hunt his father every night to the last day of the life.

mooJuly 10, 2014 10:23 AM

You might be thinking of Basic Instinct, the 1992 thriller with Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone.

blixardJuly 15, 2014 12:37 AM

Can my web searches be made to look bad? Certainly. I have a degree inmathematics with minors in chemistry and physics, and a masters in mathematics.... And I have severe ADHD. So my searches are literally all over the place and I'm constantly reading stuff.

Today, I was playing with an interesting idea,that might turn into a useful theorem. I noticed the similarity of two terms of a common physics equation. Suddenly the periodic table on my wall got me thinking about isotopes,and how they differ in the number of electrons. And suddenly, I thought of a really innovative idea to enrich uranium.

So I google uranium enrichment to see if its been done. I read probably 1200 pages before I realized how late it was due to eye strain. It seems it may be totally move. (Which is why I'm giving no more details)

I often look for weird stuff to read. One day it might be uranium enrichment. Another,how to cook ribs,and so on.I looked up the structure of steroids and crystal metb the other day.then I searched for hood spam recipies

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