June 19, 2012

Like SCOTUS, the California Supreme Court eschews citations to Wikipedia

As noted in this article in the ABA Journal, the U.S. Supreme Court has never cited to Wikipedia, the open-access, reader-edited online encyclopedia, which is full of useful and potentially accurate information on a seemingly infinite array of topics. But the federal appeals courts are another matter. According to the article, those courts have cited Wikipedia about 95 times in the last five years. The federal courts cited Wikipedia entries about everything from the movie Blazing Saddles to medical maladies to Elvis Presley.

The article got us wondering whether the California Supreme Court has ever cited to Wikipedia for a factual proposition. (You may recall we previously looked into how often the Court cites to ordinary dictionary definitions—like the U.S. Supreme Court, it does with some frequency.) The answer is no, the Court has never cited Wikipedia. But like their brethren on the federal appeals courts, the lower California appellate courts have referred to Wikipedia a fair number of times (a Westlaw search of California appellate opinions dating back to 2002 returned 37 hits). Many courts have treated Wikipedia as a reliable source. (DVD Copy Control Assn. v. Kaleidescape, Inc. (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th 697, 738 [citing Wikipedia as authoritative for the original meaning of the expression “a pig in a poke”]; In re Carleisha P. (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 912, 920 & fn. 5 [citing Wikipedia and the related Wiktionary for definitions of “ammunition”]; see also O’Grady v. Superior Court (2006) 139 Cal.App.4th 1423, 1433 [describing Wikipedia as “a well-known cooperative encyclopedia”].)

Other California appellate courts, however, have expressed serious reservations about Wikipedia’s reliability. (In re Marriage of Lamoure (2011) 198 Cal.App.4th 807, 826 [“We do not consider Wikipedia a sufficiently reliable source”]; In re S.G. (2009) 2009 WL 875510, *4 [“Articles in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia can be edited by anyone at any time. (Citation.) Unsurprisingly, any article at any time may contain factual errors, and can become very unbalanced”]; see also People v. Moreno (2009) 2007 WL 2998986, *2, fn. 2 [“Wikipedia, although useful in many other contexts, is not a recognized source for determining legislative intent”].)

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