The Case of the Yellow Hat: Judge Can Use Google to Take Judicial Notice

It is difficult to determine if there is some precedent in the Second District’s U.S. v. Anthony Bari case relative to whether a judge can take judicial notice of a fact by Googling the issue. But, at least according to the federal court, we should “expect to see more judges doing just that.”

The defendant had been on supervised release after serving time for bank robbery when, alas, he allegedly robbed another bank. At the hearing on the revocation of supervised release, the court heard evidence tending to prove that the defendant robbed the second bank. The most damning evidence was that the bank’s surveillance video showed the robber wearing a yellow rain hat which looked a lot like the one which the defendant had at home. The judge noted that there are lots of different types of rain hats and it was “too much of a coincidence” that the defendant had the same type. To underscore that point, the judge acknowledged that he had Googled yellow rain hats and confirmed that “there are lots of different rain hats.”

The defendant’s release was revoked and he appealed, claiming that the court violated Federal Rule of Evidence 605, namely that the judge cannot “testify” about a fact. The government responded that the court was merely taking judicial notice of a commonly known fact under Rule of Evidence 201.

There is an interesting footnote as to whether a strict interpretation of FRE 605 might devour judicial notice under FRE 201, but without taking evidence rules to extremes, the court concluded that the judge’s use of Google to establish that “there are lots of different rain hats” was proper. Indeed, the court approved Google-confirming because, “as broadband speeds increase and Internet search engines improve, the cost of confirming one’s intuition decreases” (an odd statement, since even a Yahoo search in 1995 on dial-up would likely give you more or less the same results – connectivity and search engine optimization are really not the driving forces here). In short, at least in these types of hearings, judges may perform Google searches to confirm matters of common knowledge.

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