If it were a crime to search, we'd all be in jail
A lot of things are crimes if done. However, people often look for information about such things to either understand how not to commit the crime (e.g. googling speed limits), understand what happened (How did ENRON work?), or just plainly, because they write a story and thus need to know the law - or how it was violated. Or just because they are goofballs and want to know about a certain person, case, or method of death. None of this is illegal, as long as you don't act on it.
Internet searches can be evidence
There have been cases, where evidence of a web search was used as circumstantial evidence in addition to other pieces. If you are familiar with Forensic Files, you'll know that in many of the older episodes this pattern appears, and in newer episodes reconstruction of the search history sometimes plays a place.
For example, Season 11, Episode 17, depicts the murder of Sherry Durall. One of the forensics team says about her husband Robert Durall:
Bob's internet search engine revealed he
looked for information on all sorts of
diabolical schemes. We were shocked to
see these searches on things like "poison
herbs", "death something", about sedation of
people, also about smothering but the
most graphic one was actually a search
that Durall did on the words "kill
Robert Durall did appeal his conviction in or before 2003. In the brief the case history and legal history are depicted. In part, I want to point out, that no small part of the discussion is dedicated to the fact, that they used his internet searches as circumstantial evidence, to establish his mens rea and justify first-degree murder.
In its conclusion that "Durall's mental state, including his research and planning of his wife's death, which preceded
the murder for months, was qualitatively and quantitatively much more egregious and culpable than that required to
prove meditated intent,” the trial court relied upon the following facts: on several occasions during the months be-
fore Carolyn's murder, Durall conducted internet research on how to kill his wife;! Durall stated in e-mails to
women he met on an internet dating service that he dreaded the prospect of a divorce and he had "a plan" to resolve
his unsatisfactory marriage: Durall met with one woman six months before Carolyn's murder and told her that it
would be easier if his wife were dead; and Durall made a list of tasks and items needed for the crime. In addition,
Durall took elaborate steps to cover up the crime, including hiring a private investigator, cleaning and concealing
blood stains from the murder, disposing of his wife's body in a rural area, suggesting to police, friends, Carolyn's
co-workers, and family that Carolyn had run off with another man, and concocting an alibi to comport to these
Durall conducted searches using the following terms: “murder;" "kill spouse;" "accidental death;" "smothering:"
"+poison —herbs;" "+poison t+herbs —death;" and "sleep +pills +death."
As seen in Wood, the degree of Durall's planning and research distinguishes this case apart from more typical mur-
der cases. Moreover, while the defendant in Wood used third parties to explore means of killing her husband,
Durall's use of the internet to do the same suggests a similarly culpable mental state.
Qualitatively, Durall's actions are similar to those seen in State v. Vaughn, 83 Wn. App. 669, 924 P.2d 27 (1996), a
case cited by both parties.
While the search can be evidence, it also requires other evidence to make a conviction. If there is a different explanation or even evidence that the searching person wasn't even there, that evidence has to be taken into account too.