Thursday, October 4, 2012

Social media seeps into jury deliberations

A Franklin County, Ohio jury was deliberating a murder case last month when a juror announced that she had looked up the definition of a legal term on her tablet computer. Before she could read it aloud, other jurors told her she had violated the judge’s order not to do outside research. Less than two hours later, the judge removed the woman from the jury, reported the Columbus Dispatch.

“We’re all very concerned. These are just the times it gets reported. What about the ones who are doing it and not telling anyone?” Charles Schneider, the administrative judge for Franklin County Common Pleas Court told the Dispatch.

Judges in federal, state and municipal courts always have warned jurors not to investigate a case on their own. But the instant access that cellphones and personal computers provide to the Internet makes it easier than ever for jurors to violate those instructions and imperil a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.

In a national survey last year, 6 percent of federal district judges said one or more jurors in their cases had used social media to communicate during a trial or deliberations.

To combat that, nearly 30 percent of judges confiscated phones and other electronic devices during jury deliberations, and 22 percent did so at the start of each day of trial, the survey found. The majority only warned jurors verbally not to use social media, reported the Dispatch.

In some states, such as California, jurors can be jailed on contempt charges if they post information about a trial on social media.

But a study in the March edition of the University of Illinois Law Review found that it is “uncommon for jurors to face any consequences beyond dismissal” for Internet misconduct. It advocated penalizing violators.

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