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Computerized Judicial System

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Societies in the future, particularly in older media or modern works with elements of Retraux, are sometimes depicted as having a computerized justice system. Part of the use of this trope is for shock value (to modern audiences accustomed to more humanistic values underlying their familiar legal systems); the other part of it is to reinforce that the setting is either The Future, 20 Minutes into the Future, another planet, an Alternate History, or some other futuristic or otherworldly setting. Occasionally, a variant will even show up in the Present Day. Sometimes, but not always, a symptom of a futuristic Kangaroo Court, as computers can be programmed by human beings to distort the truth or cover up.

Modern consensus is that a truly computerized justice system is unlikely. Judges have to puzzle through difficult legal reasoning that often depends heavily on experience, "common sense", and a sense of justice. While a lot of the rote work of the courts can be automated, you'd be surprised how many issues require human judgment to resolve fairly. Meanwhile, juries also rely heavily on common sense and experience with human beings to figure out if other human beings are trustworthy. A computer that could replicate the kind of human judgment needed to consistently decide cases in a way people would accept would probably be an AI so sophisticated it wouldn't be worth bothering to build it.


What role computers play in the actual trial can vary considerably. Usually the computer is either the Judge, Jury or both. Computerized prosecution is also common, somewhat more so than a computer playing the role of Defense Attorney (though these show up, as well, from time to time).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Togusa gets put on trial for using his weapon while off-duty. During his trial, the judge is aided with an odd number of computer A.I.s to help her make decisions and move the trial along.

    Comic Books 
  • The Mechanismo arc in Judge Dredd features robotic versions of the Megacity One Judges, empowered exactly as the Judges were under the Judicial Code, to be Judge, Jury, and Executioner. Inevitably, they malfunction and massacre innocent civilians.
  • Themis, in S.O.S Bonheur. The staff surrounding it praise it for being absolutely blind and free of stupid human mistakes... just before it sentences a man to death for a minor offence. It is the result of deliberate sabotage rather than Themis' A.I. being a crapshoot.
  • One early Challengers of the Unknown story had the Challengers and a villainous time-traveler subjected to one when they traveled into the far future. In a subversion of how this plot usually plays out, the A.I. exonerates all of them for being obviously too primitive to comply with society's more complicated laws; before the villain can celebrate, though, the court's human enforcers promptly confiscate all the tech he's stolen, turn him over to the Challengers, send them all back to their own time, and blow up the time machine for good measure.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Demolition Man has omnipresent computerized speech monitors that fine citizens for uttering profanity.

  • Several of Frank Herbert's ConSentiency stories (including Whipping Star and "The Tactful Saboteur") mention a "robo legum" court which is apparently run by a computer.
  • Alan E. Nourse's "The Bladerunner". When Billy Gimp is arrested for blade running (handling black market medical supplies), he's tried and sentenced by a computer court system.
  • Anne McCaffrey's Crystal Singer novel Killashandra. Near the end of the book Killashandra's boyfriend Lars Dahl is given a computer-controlled trial for kidnapping her as well as other charges. She has forgiven him and wants him to be acquitted, but the Judicial Monitor computer's equipment reads her heightened vital signs, misinterprets them as her being afraid of him, and finds him guilty of one of the charges. Eventually he's cleared of the charge and he and Killashandra get back together.
  • In "Little Brother", a short story and an episode of the miniseries Masters of Science Fiction (aka Stephen Hawking's Sci Fi Masters) a machine called "Court" or "judge" is made up of about a thousand brains in jars; curiously enough there is only a judge and a defender, not a prosecuting AI.
  • In the short story "Computers Don't Argue" by Gordon R. Dickson, someone eventually gets executed because the computerized justice system (actually the joke is that the entire society is computerized) thought he had "kidnapped" someone named "Robert Louis Stevenson", when all he did was get the wrong book from a publishing company, and it kept trying to charge him, and things just went Off the Rails from there.
  • In The Demolished Man, it is revealed in the end that their system of justice involves a computer which reviews the case and decides in minutes if the person is guilty or not. Note that it is not a Kangaroo Court, as the computer is very tough to convince. You need real evidence someone is guilty, and indeed the need to find the evidence drives Powell's actions (and the plot).
  • In Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison, the titular character is arrested on the charges of dereliction of duty, as well as losing his map of the Imperial Planetville (a capital offense, mind you). He is brought before a court where jury members are robots pre-programmed to always find the defendant guilty. To everyone's shock, the robots acquit him... but only because they have just received orders to sent Bill to a hellhole planet.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Max Headroom, set 20 Minutes into the Future in a Crapsack World, featured computerized trials... on floppy disk!
    • There are also Video Courts such as "You The Jury" that keeps the human element but turns the whole trial into a Game Show.
  • The TV Movies that began the Lexx series showed that Kangaroo Court computerized trials where the judge, prosecution, and defense were all played by standardized holographic bureaucrats were a regular part of life under the Divine Order of the League of 20,000 Planets, or at least life on the Cluster, the League's capitol.
  • During Travis' military tribunal on Blake's 7, the roles of prosecution and defense are filled by human beings, but the "Judgement Program" or something similar processes the disposition of the accused. The Terran Federation was, of course, consistently depicted as totalitarian.
    • A "judgement machine" was also referred to in Blake's civilian trial in the pilot episode, "The Way Back". Defense and Prosecutions load Data Crystals containing the evidence and their respective legal arguments into the computer, which then makes a decision. The human Arbiters then decide on the sentence. In both cases the computer is presented as being objective, but this doesn't prevent false evidence and judicial influence.
  • In a rare subversion, in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Court Martial", the USS Enterprise computer is used to prove Kirk's innocence (trials in the Federation typically being conducted by sentient organic beings, not computers). A digital witness, perhaps?
  • The Doctor Who serial "The Stones of Blood" features the Megara, Justice Machines who take the place of judge, jury and executioner and can Mind Probe witnesses to be certain of the truth. They frequently converse with each other during the trial in machine code and regard the involvement of actual organics in the judicial process as a tedious necessity.
    • "The Keys of Marinus", a First Doctor story, had something similar in the Conscience of Marinus.
  • The Red Dwarf episode "Emohawk: Polymorph II" featured a robotic Space Corps Enforcement Orb who had been tracking the crew and Starbug for some time on charges of looting and illegal salvage. Due to the distance from formal legal proceedings Enforcement Orbs are empowered to pass judgment and mete sentence (death in this case) on the spot.
    • "Justice" featured a space station that was a prison. The station was administered by The Justice Computer, who mind probed everyone entering to determine if they were hiding a criminal act and immediately rendered judgement on them.
  • Narrowly averted in Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger, where, when a criminal is confronted, the computer compiles all the relevant information and sends it to a judge (as revealed in the 10 Years After movie, the galactic court is located on a planet where time passes at an INFINITELY slower rate, and thus what to the Dekarangers is just a few seconds, over there is the time where the actual judgement takes place), who then hands down a verdict. Its American counterpart Power Rangers S.P.D. plays it straight by having the Rangers' equipment determine the guilt or innocence of the accused itself, but at least they only issue arrest warrants and don't hand out death sentences like Dekaranger does.
  • One of Tim and Eric's many mock products from Cinco is "e-Trial", a software application that enables users to give themselves a trial from their home computer. Defendants click icons to select relevant pieces of evidence and portraits of virtual jurors, submit a plea, then receive a legally-binding verdict straight from the computer screen.
  • In the episode "Little Brother" of the short-lived Masters Of Science Fiction, computer personalities oversee trials, and the uploaded minds of deceased people act as jurors. However, this turns out to work poorly.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Star Frontiers module SF1 Volturnus, Planet of Mystery. All of the laws of the Eorna civilization were entered into special computers. The computers control the robot police and act as judges in all civil and criminal cases.
  • Paranoia. To the extent that any Alpha Complex citizen receives due process at all, the Computer usually presides over any formal trials that occur. This often occurs during post-mission debriefings when Troubleshooters accuse each other of treason.
  • Feng Shui presents this as yet another feature of the dystopian world of 2056.

    Video Games 
  • In Mega Man Battle Network 6: Cybeast Gregar and Cybeast Falzar, there is a computerized judge. Which promptly gets hacked and starts accusing and convicting people of trumped up charges.
  • Halfway through the second Exit Path game, Central captures you, and runs you through an automated jury system, which instantly deems you guilty. The whole process has shades of Kangaroo Court as well.
  • In Battleborn, Orendi's discipline hearing in one of her lore challenges was presided by a Magnus named Gendarme. The hearing however ends up as a chaotic mess as Orendi immediately starts attacking everyone and everything upon entering. As Orendi causes more and more damage, the Hon. Gendarme becomes too preoccupied with updating on the fly the growing list of charges against Orendi to do anything else. The recording of this incident then comes to an end with Orendi having destroyed Gendarme's remote access node.

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of C.O.P.S. called "The Case of the Bogus Justice Machines" has a crooked city councilman try to replace the C.O.P.S. with "Instant Justice Machines". The machines acted as police, judge and warden and had a tendency towards All Crimes Are Equal. And of course, because the councilman was in Big Boss's pocket, the machines would not arrest any of his crooks no matter what they did.
  • The Simpsons: When Homer's car is abandoned in New York City he calls in to challenge the tickets.
    Pleasant female voice: To plead 'not guilty', press 'one' now. [Homer dials one] Thank you. Your plea has been...
    Male rough voice: Rejected.
    Pleasant female voice: You will be assessed the full fine plus a small...
    Male rough voice: Large lateness fee.
  • In The Jetsons episode "Millionaire Astro", the Jetsons are involved in a custody battle with Astro's original owners. In court, the "jury" was a computer called the Jury-vac; it had 12 volume unit meters.
  • The Futurama episode "Fear of a Bot Planet" the judge in the trial is an old Apple Macintosh, possibly as a reference to Max Headroom above.

    Real Life 
  • One time Dave Barry got a ticket for driving around with an expired registration. When he arrived in court he discovered that the "judge" was a VHS recording, after which everyone was herded to the clerk to pay their fine. Granted it's just VHS and not an actual computer, but the principle holds.
  • Sodexo, who run the largest United Kingdom private probation network, announced a plan to replace most of its officers with machines, to the opposition of some.
  • In 2006, a Chinese court used a software program to help them to decide prison sentences.
  • A lawyer released the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines calculator, as a guide to help people calculate probable sentences based on the Federal Guidelines.
    • The Federal Sentencing Guidelines themselves are sort of what a Computerized Justice System would look like without the actual computerpages upon pages of guidelines sorting crimes by level of severity and cross-referencing those with the offender's criminal history to produce a uniform table of recommended sentences, with modifiers for aggravating and mitigating circumstances. The above calculator is meant to save the trouble of actually thumbing through a physical book.
  • There has been some serious talk about utilizing AIs in the future to prelitigate cases to see if they can be thrown out or if they can proceed to court, as the speed and knowledge of an actual AI could make this determination in a very short period of time. In the U.S., where the deliberation and actual court case take considerable time, some courts are backlogged by years.
    • Already planned in Estonia (see below).
  • There are computer systems in place in at least one state that can make automatic accusations against welfare recipients for suspected abuses of the welfare system. The algorithm it uses in lieu of common sense is very far from perfect; these automatic accusations are wrong in 84% of cases. Politicians agree: it takes common sense to judge these kinds of things.
  • The process of issuing citations for motorists caught by automatic speed traps is almost entirely automated, with OCR software comparing the license plate to the local ownership database and then sending a summons to the relevant address. On at least one occasion this has resulted in a sumons being sent to the owner of a car that was being towed by a recovery vehicle at the time, leading to much negative press as well as a sharp rebuke from the judge, so most police forces require a clerk to review all auto-generated summons before dispatch.
  • On March 2019, Estonia announced AI would be used to adjudicate small claims (i.e. below €7,000, or about $8,000).