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Bray case brings national spotlight to legal issue

By John Hendricks
Published On: Oct 11 2012 12:50:52 AM CDT
Updated On: Oct 11 2012 01:30:34 AM CDT

NewsChannel 21's John Hendricks reports on the issue of Internet search records being used in court

BEND, Ore. -

A request for Google search records among other online documents in the Thomas Bray rape trial has been thrust into the national spotlight.

The ex-COCC instructor was convicted on four counts of sex abuse. The big question being asked now: Should what you look up online be admissible in court?

On Wednesday morning, both the victim in the case, Jennifer Bennett, and her Bend attorney, Jennifer Coughlin, spoke out on NBC's "Today."

"It's unprecedented across the country right now, and I think the courts are going to have to deal with it more," Coughlin said.

"They wanted a lot of different things -- Facebook, e-mail, the journals I used for counseling during the healing process," said Bennett. "It was an extraordinary amount of information that I didn't see was relevant."

During the trial, the defense wanted to show that Bennett willingly participated in sexual activity with Bray.

Defense attorney Stephen Houze requested Bennett's Google search records because she had looked up the definition of rape in Oregon.

"At a minimum, it would have established that the accuser her self had grave doubt in her mind as to whether her encounter with my client constituted criminal behavior at all," said Houze.

What could set legal precedent is the simple fact that those records were even asked for, and the defense won that motion.

But Bennett refused to turn over the documents, and Judge Michael Adler refused to enforce the subpoena.

"There was an evening there where it was a very real possibility I could be held in contempt of court," said Bennett. "But I hoped, and I knew in my heart that if I just did the right thing and followed what I knew was right that everything would fall into place in the end."

Bend defense attorney Jacques Dekalb, who has no connection to the Bray case, told NewsChannel 21 on Wednesday that he believes those kinds of records should be allowed in court.

"The courts have consistently said that whatever you post or whatever you do on the Internet, you have no expectation of privacy," said Dekalb.

Dekalb argues that if police use social media to solve a wide variety of crimes, Internet search records could reveal even more about a person.

"Those records could show a number of bad motives" on an alleged victim's part, said Dekalb, "Retaliation, planning, even extortion could be motives for a person that may show up."

For now, there is nothing on the books that says Internet search records can or can't be allowed in the courtroom. But legal experts agree, a case in the near future could define whether it's permissible or not.

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