Be Careful What You Search For: Google Searches Can Be Criminally Damning

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Recent evidence in the the Casey Anthony case highlights just how incriminating a Google search could be

In the last few days, it has been brought to the attention of the media that there was some damning evidence in the Casey Anthony Murder case that never made it to trial. In an autobiography by one of the defence attorneys on the case, Jose Baez, it is noted that the prosecution failed to bring up Google searches that were traced to Ms. Anthony’s computer. These searches include the phrase “foolproof suffocation”.

Had this evidence been brought to the jury, would it have changed the verdict to guilty? Not likely. Why? Multiple people were using that computer and other search engine evidence had already been presented. Having said that, the evidence certainly would not have helped Ms.  Anthony. This “new discovery” also brings up a few interesting points and questions about Google searches and their potential for self-incrimination.

As we become increasingly reliant on technology and the Internet, it’s already an old habit to search google whenever we have a question. Even if the burning question has murderous intent.

The Anthony case highlights just how incriminating a Google search could be. By tracing the computer’s mouse clicks, you are able to see what time the clicks took place. In the Anthony case, the defence’s explanation for the “foolproof suffocation” search was because the father of Casey Anthony, George, was so distraught with the death of his granddaughter he was considering taking his life. Thus, he was the one who searched about suffocation. The only problem with that alibi was at the time the Internet search was conducted, George was already at work.

This isn’t the first time that suspicious Googling has played a part in a criminal investigation. Suspects in the murder of Juliane Mensch were found to have searched for phrases like “ways to kill people in their sleep” and “chemicals to passout a person.” Both suspects have been taken into custody. In another case from 2003, the computer of Robert Petrick revealed searches containing the words “neck,” “snap,” “break” and “hold” and information about the water levels of the lake where his wife’s body was found. Petrick was found guilty in 2005.

While search engine evidence can shine a light on many factors in a case, it’s often hard to make this evidence a key factor. Trouble usually arises because the prosecution has the burden of proof to convice a jury of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Internet searches are also often difficult to pin on one particular person as it is not uncommon for more than one person to use a computer.

Additionally, if the computer search evidence is not brought up in the first trial, the prosecution may have lost their chance. Double jeopardy prevents a person being tried more than once for the same crime under the same charge. So, the Casey Anthony case will not be reopened even though the Google search evidence has come forward. A theoretical solution would be to appeal the case in federal court but that’s not likely to happen.

What are your feelings about Internet search engine evidence? If you were on a jury would it be enough to sway your decision?

About Kira O'Connor

Kira graduated from of U.C. Berkeley with a degree Mass Communications and Media Studies and will graduate from the University of Oregon School of Law in May 2012. Kira has worked in entertainment and media since high school, and during college she worked at Universal Music Group and the Cal Berkeley television station. In law school, her focus has been on sports, entertainment, and intellectual property law. When her face isn’t buried in case law, she enjoys triathlons, adoring baby animals, and taking jumping pictures. Follow her on Twitter @kiraoconnor
Posted in: Criminal, Internet, Law