Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bringing your copy of Wikipedia to court


Jesus Malverde is the patron saint of illegal drug traffickers in Mexico. He has achieved a sort of "Robin Hood-like status." At least that's what Wikipedia says. And the Utah Supreme Court relied on that information in a footnote in a 2006 opinion citing Wikipedia directly.

This morning, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog had a piece on federal appeals courts citing Wikipedia as authority. According to their Westlaw search, since 2007, "federal courts of appeals have cited Wikipedia about 95 times."

That made me wonder, "Have the Utah appellate courts ever cited Wikipedia?" A Google Scholar search reveals that the Supreme Court has.

In State v. Alvarez, police officers were investigating a suspected drug dealer when they looked into his car and saw some sort of representation of Jesus Malverde. Based on that and other evidence they observed, they questioned Alvarez about drug dealing. The Supreme Court decided that based partly on their possession of a representation of the "patron saint of drug dealing" it was reasonable for the two police officers to question Alvarez about whether he dealt drugs and to ask him to open his mouth to see if he was hiding drugs.

Here are the results of the Utah Supreme Court's internet research:
The topic of the personage Jesus Malverde was a subject of extensive discussion at the suppression hearing. While this court professes no special expertise in hagiology or folklore, some independent research reveals that Jesus Malverde is not exclusively or historically associated with the drug culture. He is a regional folk hero, in the tradition of Robin Hood, who is popular among the poor and disadvantaged of the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Jesus Malverde, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Malverde (last visited October 6, 2006).
Maybe criminal defense lawyers should start citing to Wikipedia in their legal briefs. If you want to cite Wikipedia, here is a helpful article with some tips on how to make sure that the judges see the version of the entry that you want them to see.

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