The Law Info Blog has posted relevant story for our times “Facebook, Juries and The New Way Jurors Find a Way to Break The Law.” Yes, judges have always instructed juries on their duty not to discuss the details of a case with anyone prior to deliberation. And no, there have always been some jurors who don’t pay heed to that admonition. But where in the past, a chatty juror may have just been making dinner conversation with their family; today the social networking addicted finder-of-fact is broadcasting their impressions via the internet. The blog entry related one such instance:
“Hadley Jons, a 20-year old from the Detroit area, was a juror on a criminal trial. After listening to part of the trial, she proudly declared on her Facebook that ‘[It’s] Gonna be fun to tell the defendant they’re guilty.’”
While Ms. Jons may have shown some bad judgment, there are worse offenders:
“a 29-year old woman . . . was asked by one of her friends via a Facebook post ‘Did he [the accused] do it?’ She then decided to explain that they were split as a jury. Another UK juror stated ‘I don’t know which way to go, so I’m holding a poll!’ the juror wrote, asking her Facebook friends to weigh in on the case.”
Recently while the jury was deliberating in a case, I was looking something up on my phone’s web browser. It was then that I wondered whether the jurors might be doing that same thing. I trust they did not. Whether a juror wants to sneak a peek at outside material just because they can or whether it’s done out of a sincere desire to “get it right,” our digital, mobile, electronic, interactive, wired-in, and wireless age seems to present a whole new set of problems which are yet to be fully addressed.
Should jurors have to check their smart phones at the door? I tend to think not. However, preliminary instructions should alert the jurors that cyber-activity is taboo and that violations could mean contempt charges for them and the expense of a mistrial for the parties and the courts. However, it should be remembered that the legal system is essentially upheld by the merit system. If jurors do decide to misbehave they don’t need cell phones or net books – like the jury that decided to have a séance to contact the murder victim to see if the defendant was guilty.
If there are serious doubts about juror misconduct, the 21st century advocate is well served the check the web for juror comments, and if there is inappropriate conduct – that is why appeals exist.