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Federal and state courts are embracing electronic filing, online research has become second nature, and the Internet is indispensable. Now what? There are many aspects to using the Internet in legal practice, but criminal defense lawyers need to know more than the latest source of slip opinions or how to Google someone’s background. There are fundamental questions about how lawyers should be using the Internet that can be answered by observing the use of Web sites in court opinions. The first URL appeared in a published New York court opinion in 1998. From then until the end of 2003, there have been 68 separate judicial opinions with citations to Internet sources, and a total of 103 unique Web site citations. And government and private publishers are posting more materials online in lieu of print, compelling lawyers to rethink the place of Internet citations in their research. Eleven of the 68 decisions mentioned above were criminal cases — three from the Court of Appeals, one Appellate Division case, and the rest from trial courts. A review of these opinions shows that judges have relied on Web sources for primary legal materials, facts, statistics, journal articles, reports and government documents. Courts are also using Internet sources to take judicial notice of facts and for background information. This small sampling suggests that New York courts and lawyers are adhering to traditional research practices in selecting Internet sources. Most of the Web sites were cited to facilitate document retrieval, point to legal databases or recognized reference tools, or highlight official government sites and organizational home pages. But the Internet is not static like print publications, and there are many pitfalls to citing an Internet site, especially if it is the sole source of a fact or statistic. Among the billions of Web pages that can be searched, there is a lot of garbage. It is crucial for attorneys and judges to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. THE FOUR Cs A simple guideline for evaluating Web sites is the four Cs: Credible, Comprehensive, Current and Cost-Effective. A credible site has reliable information that is accurate and useful. Government, academic, and some organizational sites fall into this category, along with many trustworthy publishers and Internet information providers. Comprehensiveness refers to content, whether a site provides selective or encyclopedic content, full-text or summaries. And a good site is current and regularly updates its content. Finally, cost-effective research depends on whether the free information is worth the effort. Some factors in making this assessment are the time required to find the answer, and the quality of the information found. [FOOTNOTE 1] New York courts have a strong preference for official sources. Naturally, this is reflected in the citation manual used to publish court opinions. The Official Reports Style Manual 2002 Edition, prepared by the New York State Law Reporting Bureau and available at www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/New_Styman.htm , views the Internet as the last option: “Citation to Internet material is permitted where the material is not available in another form.” An excellent guide to understanding and citing Internet sources is Peter W. Martin’s Introduction to Basic Legal Citation � 2-100 (LII 2003 ed.) at www.law.cornell.edu/citation/ . Here users will find rules for citing Web-based materials based on The Bluebook (17th Ed. 2000), www.legalbluebook.com/ , and the ALWD Citation Manual (2000), www.alwd.org/cm/ . Beginning with the same citation information normally used for cases and statutes, the citation should include the URL, which must be preceded by “at” if it is the only known source; “available at” if the print source was consulted and not the Internet version; and no phrase if the Internet source was consulted and not the print copy. As for date information, if none is clearly available, a parenthetical should be added to indicate when the page was last accessed. Finally, angle brackets <   should be used to distinguish the URL from surrounding text. DISAPPEARING SITES While these citation rules are helpful, they do not solve the problem of disappearing Web sites. The Internet is the proverbial river that you can never step in twice. Its fluid nature makes it frustrating when a cited source is no longer available. By their nature, Internet sites are transitory and can disappear, or an entire site could be redesigned and the familiar URLs changed. One character transcribed out-of-place renders URLs inactive. Web sites fixed forever in a printed court opinion might become dead ends for someone attempting to retrieve a document from a dead link. Unlike print, there are no permanent Web pages, although preservation efforts are under way. [FOOTNOTE 2] The problem is illustrated with the URLs found in the 11 criminal law decisions cited earlier. Out of a total of 28 Web addresses, only 17 were still working as of April 19. If the URL is the sole source, and not a parallel site for a print publication, additional steps are warranted. The practices for preserving digitally created evidence can be applied here, [FOOTNOTE 3]i.e., creating an electronic or print archival copy. [FOOTNOTE 4] A sole source Web page can be archived and submitted along with motion papers and briefs on a disk or CD-ROM as backup. In light of the growing acceptance of CD-ROM briefs, this is a natural step. The archived Web page can be linked directly to its citation in the brief instead of relying on the dubious stability of a live site. Working from the primary or root site to recover the original source might be difficult, since many pages and documents are either moved or removed. A good site saves the time of the researcher; a good Internet citation should do the same. CONCLUSION Defense counsel should be cautious in their use of the Internet as an alternative (or sole) source of primary legal authority, reliable factual data or scholarly research. It is important to remember that we are in a transitional period, a shift from print to electronic publishing. As we progress through this new phase, we should continue to rely on proven citation and research practices based in print and established electronic sources. Not everything is on the Web, nor does it remain there forever. Researchers should also be mindful of the limitations of all electronic research, and its hazards. It is a disservice to clients, and posterity, to create a body of precedent written on the wind. ::::FOOTNOTES:::: FN1For an excellent collection of materials on assessing Web sites and information from the Internet, see Evaluating the Quality of Information on the Internet, www.virtualchase.com/quality/. This is part of the Virtual Chase site managed by Genie Tyburski, Research Applications Specialist, Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll. FN2The Wayback Machine, www.archive.org/web/web.php, is one project devoted to preserving Internet sites. Google Cache, www.google.com/help/features.html#cached, is another tool for locating earlier versions of pages. FN3See generally Ken Strutin, Using PowerPoint in the Courtroom, The Practical Litigator, January 2003, at 45, 49. FN4Depending on the source and copyright restrictions, authorizations may be required. Ken Strutin, an attorney, is the director of legal information services for the New York State Defenders Association in Albany.

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