Category: Science in the Courtroom

Insert "Superpoke" Pun Here: Facebook Used to Serve Court Documents

By Melissa Lafsky | December 16, 2008 1:18 pm

We’re all for the continued intersection of law and technology, but this is getting a little nuts: A court in Australia has ruled that a lawyer can serve legally binding documents to a couple via Facebook.

Lawyer Mark McCormack tried several times through home visits and email to serve process on a man and a woman who had defaulted on their home loan. Eventually, he looked up their profiles on Facebook, and sent them the lien notice as an attachment via the social networking site.

Granted, by the time McCormack got the documents approved by the court, the couple’s profiles had been removed from public view. Still, the ruling, coming out of no less than the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court, effectively sets precedent for the practice of using Facebook as a binding legal tool. If that trend heads across the ocean, Lord help us all.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science in the Courtroom
MORE ABOUT: facebook, law, technology

Whales Battle U.S. Military…and (Probably) Lose

By Melissa Lafsky | October 9, 2008 1:07 pm

submarineEver since the U.K. military figured out that the sonar from submarines royally messes with whales, activists across the pond have been rushing to halt Navy exercises that may disrupt—though exactly how much, no one really knows—the marine mammals.

As they so often do, things got litigious when both the California Coastal Commission and the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Navy in separate lawsuits to stop its use of sonar during 14 training exercises off the Southern California coast. Lucky for the whale-savers, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which is known for siding on the path of the less mighty) agreed with them, and smacked the Navy with restrictions on its sub exercises.

Now enter the Supreme Court, which this week heard the case on appeal. As with just about every human endeavor that harms the environment, the sonar use necessitates a balancing act between our needs—in this case, for a military that’s sharp and ready for, say, a second Pearl Harbor—and the needs of everything else.

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MORE ABOUT: military, whales

Sexual Harassment: A Bad Plan for Population Growth

By Melissa Lafsky | August 6, 2008 12:32 pm

sex harassmentA Russian judge has thrown out a 22-year-old advertising executive’s sexual harassment claim against her boss because “If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children,” according to the Telegraph U.K.

The plaintiff’s claim included allegations that her 47-year-old boss had demanded sex from every female employee and had locked her out of her office after she refused to have “intimate relations” with him. The judge didn’t toss out the case on the theory that these facts weren’t true, or even that they didn’t constitute sexual harassment. Rather, he ruled that such harassment was harmless—a view that has precedent in Russian courts, given that only two women have won sexual harassment cases since the fall of the Soviet Union.

But the presumptive logic underlying the ruling—that sex harassment in the workplace could help grow the country’s population, which has been in decline to the point where the government has stepped in to pass child-bearing initiatives—is hardly good science, not to mention a poor legal precedent.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science in the Courtroom
MORE ABOUT: sex, sexual harassment

Charged With a Crime? Better Check Your Facebook Pictures

By Melissa Lafsky | July 22, 2008 11:29 am

facebookEarlier this year, the realms of law and new media collided when Lori Drew was hit with federal charges for creating a fake MySpace page and harassing a neighboring teenager, who then committed suicide. In another case of courtrooms v. technology, prosecutors are reportedly searching Facebook and MySpace for photos of defendants to use as character evidence in sentencing hearings.

CNN reports that party photos and pictures of defendants drinking or looking unrepentant have resulted in harsher sentences for people charged in drunk driving accidents, with prosecutors presenting the incriminating pictures as evidence that the defendant lacked remorse.

In one instance, a prosecutor showed the court a Powerpoint presentation of party photos that had been posted on Facebook by a 20-year-old defendant after he nearly killed another driver in a three-car collision. The pictures depicted him at a Halloween party dressed as a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit labeled “Jail Bird.” The judge slammed him with a two-year jail sentence.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science in the Courtroom
MORE ABOUT: facebook, technology

The Meds Made Me Do It! Drug Side Effects Include Gambling, Risky Sex

By Melissa Lafsky | July 16, 2008 12:14 pm

Here’s some news that could put an interesting twist in the gambling addiction/genetics debate (not to mention supply new reasons to sue drug companies): ABC News reports that several of the drugs prescribed for Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome can cause a range of dangerous behavioral side effects including increased drinking, drug use, risky sex, and gambling.

The drugs, which include Mirapex and Requip, are dopamine agonists, which mimic dopamine in the brain to boost the movement and coordination centers—and also stimulate the pleasure response by reinforcing certain behaviors. Unwitting patients who’ve taken the drugs have wound up with costly gambling habits, DUI arrests, and compulsive eating disorders, as well as even stranger effects—one man reportedly plays basketball for up to 36 hours at a time, while another compulsively fishes.

Given that more than 10 million prescriptions have been written for Mirapex alone, it’s not unlikely that we’ll see some serious fallout, be it motorists killed by a drunk driver on the drug, or an STD spike as a result of risky sexual practices (which are already on the rise among seniors, the demographic most likely to be taking meds for Parkinson’s and RLS).

As such, it’s worth it to start asking to what degree patients should be held legally responsible for their actions while taking the drug—and, perhaps even more importantly for lawyers, whether the drug companies can be held at all responsible for all that irresponsible boozing and sex.

MORE ABOUT: drugs, gambling

Screw Clean Air, I'm Going Home: Appeals Court Axes Pollution Regulation

By Melissa Lafsky | July 14, 2008 2:54 pm

PollutionLast Friday brought a double-whammy for clean air activists. Not only did the EPA announce its decision to do precisely nothing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act (a move that surprised few) but a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that the agency lacked the authority to establish and enforce a landmark cap-and-trade regulation for air pollution.

The shot-down regulation, called the Clean Air Interstate Rule, was ironically the most aggressive move the Bush Administration has taken to clean up the air. It called for a drastic decrease in East Coast air pollution—up to a 70 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by 2025—by cleaning up coal-fired power plants in Midwestern states, and had even gained backing from a sizable number of power companies.

But alas, the court unanimously struck down the rule, holding that “[n]o amount of tinkering with the rule or revising of the explanations” would make it “acceptable.”

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Reality Check: Science in the Courtroom

By Melissa Lafsky | June 18, 2008 3:10 pm

courtroomForensic Science
DNA evidence, fingerprint analysis, toxicology, and other “hard evidence” sources have gotten so popular—and so advanced—that juries (and lawyers) are bending to the so-called “CSI Effect“—despite the longterm frequency of sample contamination and lab errors.

Not that we’re putting down forensic evidence—for all its faults, it has worked courtroom miracles across the globe.

After taking full advantage of the post-Patriot Act world, the FBI may finally be getting a legal—and Congressional—smackdown for its cavalier attitude towards people’s desire not to be spied on.

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