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The post below was published on Monday, November 29th, 2010 at 9:32 AM.

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Second District: Wrongful Incarceration, Internet Links In Opinions

This decision caught my eye for a number of reasons.

It is apparently the first published decision addressing 2008’s Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act.

The Second District affirmed a decision holding that a man whose conviction was overturned on appeal did not qualify for relief under the Act because he was not a “wrongfully incarcerated person,” as the Act uses that term. To qualify as wrongfully incarcerated, a person must establish that the sentence at issue was vacated “based upon exonerating evidence.” The petitioner’s convictions were reversed not because of exonerating evidence but because the events proved by the state did not legally constitute the crimes charged against him. So he did not qualify for relief.

The court likened the Act to a waiver of sovereign immunity and held that, like such waivers, the Act should be strictly construed.

In a footnote, the court mentioned that the author of this most recent opinion also participated in the petitioner’s earlier appeals, and the court explained that these panel assignments were random. The overlap is hardly surprising, given the court’s size, but what did intrigue me was that, in support, the court cited to its internal operating procedures manual and provided an Internet link to that manual’s 2007 version. The link reads like this:

As someone who tries to keep track of links to court documents, I believe that this particular link, named as it is to refer to the manual’s year, is new. The link used by the court just a couple of months ago no longer works. Its link name ( did not include a reference to the manual’s date.

From all this, it appears that the court has decided to keep its IOP manuals online and to name them by their dates. Presumably, then, when the current manual is updated, the 2007 version will remain online, and future readers of this recent opinion will be able to access the 2007 version’s contents using the opinion’s link. Otherwise, the authority cited by the opinion would not be verifiable, and the opinion would contain a link that is not only somewhat visually awkward (try typing that link from a printed copy of the opinion) but defunct.

The Second District is hardly alone in this area. Many appellate decisions have begun including Internet links in their opinions for points that, in the past, would have been received much the same had no citation been included. Surely no one would have doubted the court’s statement had it simply referenced its internal operating procedures without an Internet link.

What expectations follow a court’s decision to include an Internet link in a decision? Because the Second District linked a document on the court’s own servers, one may expect that the court is undertaking to maintain that link — permanently. Such an expectation cannot exist, however, where a court links a page or a document contained on someone else’s server. An important example might be opinions that link to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that, true to its wiki origins and structure, can be modified by almost anyone, anytime.

When judicial decisions include links to Internet resources, what responsibility, if any, do courts have to choose links with some degree of permanency? Little on the Internet is truly permanent, in the sense that sites can be taken down or content can change at any moment, but, that said, some sites clearly present a more permanent quality than others.

I will suggest that this is a topic worthy of discussion, more so within the judiciary than among practitioners, but to some extent among all of our courts’ constituents.

Meanwhile, I have updated my own link to the Second District’s IOP’s in the left sidebar.

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