Search History as Evidence in a Criminal Trial

From People v. Zirko (Ill. Ct. App. June 5, 2012) (paragraph breaks added):

In the case at bar, we hold that the Internet evidence admitted at trial was relevant to prove that Zirko committed the murders of Mary and Margaret or that Zirko solicited another person to murder Mary. The Web sites accessed and search terms that were used, the timing of this Internet activity, and Kelly’s testimony that she was not responsible for any of the Internet activity leads to the conclusion that it was Zirko who used the Internet for those searches. That in turn suggests Zirko’s motive and intent to commit the crimes.

Zirko argues that some of the Internet evidence was too remote to be relevant and makes no connection to the crimes with which Zirko was charged. This includes the evidence of: searches for “GHB,” “unconscious” and “liquid,” “hire plus mercenary,” “mercenary for hire,” “private detective,” “private detective Chicago,” and the Glenview school district calendar; accessing www.anesthesia-nursing.com/ether, www.youspystore.com, www.homestore.com and www.private-investigator.com; searches for homes on www.realtor.com; Map Quest searches from Zirko’s home to the Park Ridge house, and from Zirko’s house to Mary’s house; and the Internet activityregarding search terms and Web sites involving gun shows. The State argues that this evidence supports its theories that Zirko was considering various methods of killing Mary, that he would receive a windfall of insurance money in the event of Mary or Margaret’s death, and that he was trying to find a time to kill Mary when the children would not be at home. We find this to be persuasive.

We are similarly unpersuaded by Zirko’s argument that the Internet evidence is irrelevant because there may be other explanations as to why certain search terms were used and why certain Web sites were accessed. As the State points out, “[t]he contention that a different, reasonable inference might be drawn from the same evidence does not make the inference which the State chose to argue improper or impossible.”

Sounds quite right to me. To be sure, the evidence alone may not by itself prove Zirko’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but it has some tendency in reason to make the case for Zirko’s guilt stronger (that’s the legal test for relevance), and this evidence coupled with the other evidence introduced at trial may indeed suffice to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.