Jurors are instructed not to conduct independent research about issues in the cases they are selected to decide. They must decide the case on the evidence presented. They must not discuss the case until deliberations and then, only while in active deliberations with other jurors. But, as a series of cases over the last week have demonstrated, locking jurors away in a room no longer guarantees they will be cut off from the outside world.
The New York Times reported in Mistrial by iPhone: Juries’ Web Research Upends Trials “a juror in a big federal drug trial in Florida admitted to the judge that he had been doing research on the case on the Internet, directly violating the judge’s instructions and centuries of legal rules. But when the judge questioned the rest of the jury, he got an even bigger shock.” The judge learned that eight other jurors were also using their phones to do research about the case and had no choice but to declare a mistrial.
Just a week earlier in What a Twit! Twitter-using Juror May Cause $12.6 million Mistrial the New York Daily News reported a motion for a new trial in a case that resulted in a $12.6 million judgment was based upon a juror’s internet postings to Twitter.com. “The motion alleges the juror researched information about the case and communicated with others outside the jury about the case.”
Just a couple of days ago, a jury found Pennsylvania state senator, Vincent J. Fumo guilty on all 137 counts of conspiracy, fraud, tax offenses and obstruction of justice. However, the day before verdict was announce one juror was posting to Facebook and Twitter during jury deliberations. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in Fumo Lawyers Target Juror Deliberations that each day of deliberations, a juror sent a text message via Twitter and FaceBook, including “This is it . . . no looking back now.” And then the day before the verdict: “Stay tuned for a big announcement on Monday everyone!”
Two takeaways from these three stories: (1) Jurors are Tweeps (people on Twitter) too, and this is a fact of life and now a fact of law. But, these examples are just new manifestations of an age old problem of keeping jurors from outside influences. The system counts on jurors to serve according to the rules. (2) Lawyers are monitoring jurors online activity. Social media offers lawyers (and the clients they represent) a new way to research jurors, before, during and after trial.