U.S. Federal Courts Tell Jurors Twitter, Facebook and Texting Verboten

Wired Magazine is reporting that the Judicial Conference of the United States, the body that develops policy for federal courts in that country, has proposed new model jury instructions that explicitly ban the use of applications like Facebook and Twitter:

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson of Kansas, the chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, told the nation’s judges in a Jan. 28 memo that the new jury instructions ‘address the increasing incidence of juror use, of such devices as cellular telephones or computers, to conduct research on the internet or communicate with others about cases’.

Robinson told fellow judges that ‘more explicit mention in jury instructions of the various methods and modes of electronic communication and research would help jurors better understand and adhere to the scope of the prohibition against the use of these devices’.

There has been a growing number of incidents in the United States where lawyers have asked the presiding judge at a trial to disqualify a juror for misconduct or to declare a mistrial because of what jurors have posted on their personal blogs, Twitter accounts or Facebook pages.

There have also been concerns about jurors doing online research, “visiting” a crime scene on Google Earth or following Twitter or blog feeds written by reporters or others during a trial. Another concern: tipping off witnesses to proceedings in the courtroom before they testify.

The issue will be discussed at a panel on May 10, 2010 at the next annual conference of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries in Windsor, Ontario.

My blog has a few earlier posts on the topic:

  • Impartiality of Juries Threatened by Web? (October 22, 2009): “Donald Findlay QC, one of Scotland’s top criminal lawyers, has warned that the impartiality of the jury system is at risk due to jurors using internet search engines and has warned that the Government cannot continue with its ‘ostrich-like’ attitude to the problem (…) “
  • More Jurors Get Into Trouble for Going on the Net (December 13, 2009): “Last week, a Maryland appeals court upended a first-degree murder conviction because a juror consulted Wikipedia for trial information. Earlier this year, the appeals judges erased a conviction for three counts of assault because a juror did cyberspace research and shared the findings with the rest of the jury. In a third recent trial, a juror’s admission to using his laptop for off-limits information jeopardized an attempted-murder trial. On Friday, lawyers for Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon asked for a new trial in part because five of the jurors who convicted her of embezzlement Dec. 1 were communicating among themselves on Facebook during the deliberations period – and at least one of them received an outsider’s online opinion of what the verdict should be. ”

[Cross-posted to Library Boy]

Retweet information »

Comments are closed.