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Judge rules that emojis are important evidence

The defence in a case relating to a website that facilitated the sale of weapons and drugs argued that emoticons and online grammar can distort a person’s meaning and should be taken into consideration.

Image: el-finco via Flickr

THE JUDGE IN a case relating to a website that facilitated the sale of weapons and drugs has ruled that a jury should take note of any emoticons in online messages used as evidence.

The Silk Road website allowed anonymous users to buy and sell illegal drugs, weapons and other illicit items. Ross Ulbricht is the alleged mastermind of the online criminal enterprise, with the nickname “Dread Pirate Roberts” or “DPR”.

The prosecution in the case is trying to prove that Ulbricht is DPR, mainly by tying him to chat logs and emails.

In a letter to the judge before the trial, the New York Times reports that Ulbricht’s defence lawyer Joshua Dratel had asked that all chats, forum posts, emails and other Internet communications be shown to the jury rather than being read out as emoticons and online grammar can “distort a writer’s meaning”.

In court this week, a prosecutor read out the following Internet post:

I’m so excited and anxious for our future, I could burst.

The prosecutor failed to mention that there was a smiley face at the end of the sentence and eventually, judge Katherine B Frost told the jury that it should take note of any such symbols in messages.

“That is part of the evidence of the document,” she told them.

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Ulbricht, 30, pleaded not guilty to seven charges of narcotics trafficking, criminal enterprise, computer hacking and money laundering. He faces life in prison if convicted.

- Additional reporting from AFP.

Read: Bitcoin exchanges investigated over possible Silk Road connections>

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