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US Common Law, organized, universally accessible and useful

Back in 2005, I participated in the jury selection process for an attempted murder trial. I blogged about that process recently in post titled "More Adventures in Jury Selection, or: How I Lost All Faith in Our Criminal Justice System". (Please go check it out if you haven't already read it.)

I was not ultimately selected for the jury, so I never to see how it turned out. I was curious, but as far as I know there was no way for me to look it up. One odd thing about our common law justice system is that judgments set precedents, but there's no easy way for non-lawyers to look up those precedents, and even lawyers have to pay big bucks to do searches.

Well, today a lawyer friend ecstatically told me about Google's launch of legal opinion search*. Just go to Google Scholar search and click "Legal opinions and journals".

I still remembered the name of the defendant and the street where the alleged crime took place, so I did a search... I didn't find the original judgment, but I did find this appeals court opinion. (Unsurprisingly, the defendant did challenge the prosecution's use of peremptory challenges to dismiss black jurors, and the decision discusses in detail each of the dismissed jurors, ultimately deciding that the dismissals could stand.) It's also useful how referenced opinions are conveniently linkified.

My lawyer friend pointed out that they'll still need commercial databases to check whether an opinion has been overturned, but that's a much cheaper query. They're convinced that this will be a huge boon to democracy, as well as to more financially strapped clients.

*Full disclaimer: I work for Google, but not for the Google Scholar group, and my opinions are my own.

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LEAVE THIS FIELD BLANK. IT IS HERE TO TRAP ROBOTS.

LEAVE THIS FIELD BLANK. IT IS HERE TO TRAP ROBOTS.

LEAVE THIS FIELD BLANK. IT IS HERE TO TRAP ROBOTS.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 17, 2009.

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