(CN) – A federal judge’s use of Google to confirm his intuition was not “reversible error,” the 2nd Circuit ruled, saying the Internet has changed how we validate common sense. “As the cost of confirming one’s intuition decreases, we would expect to see more judges doing just that,” the three-judge panel wrote.
The Manhattan-based appeals court declined to overturn a ruling by U.S. District Judge Denny Chin, who said he “did a Google search” to confirm that “there are also lots of different rain hats … that one could buy.”
The yellow hat factored into the parole case of Anthony Bari, who was released on parole in May 2008 after serving 13 years in prison for bank robbery.
Bari was accused of violating his parole by robbing another bank on Sept. 9, 2008.
Judge Chin cited evidence that Bari had committed the second robbery, including bank surveillance footage showing a robber wearing a yellow rain hat, the same kind of hat found in Bari’s landlord’s garage.
“I am convinced from looking at the police surveillance video of September 9 that [the hat found in the garage] is the same type of hat as appears in the video,” Chin wrote in revoking Bari’s parole.
“It is just too much of a coincidence that the bank robber would be wearing the same type of hat,” Chin said. He added that “there are clearly lots of yellow hats out there,” and that “one can Google yellow rain hats and find lots of different yellow rain hats.”
Chin sentenced Bari to 3 years in prison based on the bank robbery violation.
Bari claimed Chin’s use of an independent Internet search to confirm his intuition violated the federal rules of evidence.
The appeals court agreed with the government’s claim that the rules of evidence don’t apply to parole revocation hearings, but went further in upholding Chin’s use of Google.
“[W]ith so much information at our fingertips (almost literally), we all likely confirm hunches with a brief visit to our favorite search engine that in the not-so-distant past would have gone unconfirmed,” the court wrote.
“We will not consider it reversible error when a judge, during the course of a revocation hearing … states that he confirmed his intuition on a ‘matter of common knowledge.'”