Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Internet creating havoc for judges and jurors

This is a troubling time when it comes to the use of the Internet in the courtroom. Faced with rapidly changing technology, judges are struggling to keep jurors from getting and spreading information about current cases online, reported Stateline. Doing online research on the defendant’s criminal record or consulting Facebook friends on a vote for sentencing might seem acceptable to some jurors, but it violates the oath “to base your verdict solely upon the evidence” as presented in the courtroom.

Internet research and communication in many cases is not malicious: Jurors may be driven by the desire to make sure they understand all the facts and definitions of complex legal terms. “Jurors are instructed in a number of ways as to their supremacy in judging the facts,” said Michael Hoenig, a products liability lawyer and author of several law journal articles on jurors and Internet use, in an email to Stateline. “Such instructions may, despite admonitions against Internet forays, act to ‘empower’ and embolden jurors into ‘searching for the truth’ even outside the courtroom.”

Even though a majority of states now prohibit Internet research or communication by jurors, studies have found that many jurors misconstrue the instructions or simply refuse to limit their Internet use during a trial. In a pilot study of 500 jurors across the country conducted by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), researchers found that even after jurors had been instructed that they could not tweet, email, use Facebook, or communicate electronically with friends or family members about a case, one-third of respondents either didn’t understand or incorrectly understood what they could and couldn’t do when it came to using the Internet while acting as a juror, reported Stateline.

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