Rhonda Jensen 2015-04-30 05:19:16
Let’s face it; most jurors are not enthusiastic about being picked for a jury. If one of their thousands of excuses of why they cannot be on the jury does not work or they are not excused, they are put on your jury panel. The jurors are told that they are not to discuss the pending case with anyone. This could be a tough rule to follow for many people. They might understand they cannot talk to anyone, but where does that leave social media sites and Google? With social media’s increasing impact on society, it is now affecting the courtroom. Some jurors have actually triggered mistrials due to the use of these websites during a trial. Facebook and Twitter are the top social media networks that are used in society today. Now, while listening to the evidence or during deliberations, jurors are posting or tweeting about a case (some are at least polite enough to wait for lunch or a restroom break). In Illinois, a juror on a wrongful death case logged into her blog after leaving the courtroom, and wrote an entry about what took place in the jury room that day. This blog post included demographics of the jury, witness names and the current weight of the evidence at trial. Another important website to consider is Google. With the ability to research parties of the case by searching on Google, mistrials are popping up everywhere. Jurors are not supposed to look for information outside of the courtroom, but are entrusted to take the facts of the case and decide the outcome on that information only. While jurors might believe they are helping by attempting to educate themselves, they are actually doing more harm. Some jurors attempt to get additional information about a particular party in an effort to reach a more accurate resolve, or so they believe. Jurors frequently feel frustrated because they believe the attorneys are leaving out key information that they believe will give them better insight to make the right decision. Jurors have started to Google definitions for medical terminology. In one manslaughter case, the juror, a former biology professor, was “not impressed” with the medical examiner’s testimony as to cause of death, (State v. Boling, 127 P.3d 740 (Wash. App. 2006)), so he conducted his own research over the Internet to determine an alternate cause of death, which he then shared with the other jurors. If the jurors are going to the Internet to research various items you are not effectively doing your job in explaining the case to them. Finally, as an attorney, have you ever Googled during voir dire? You might want to start thinking about running a search on the jurors if you haven’t already thought about this. This information could assist with the screening process during jury selection. The Internet is an important place for research, even a savvy lawyer uses it to prepare for a case. Attorneys are able to research jurors as long as they do not reach out to the juror by sending them a friend request on Facebook or following him/her on Twitter. While many attorneys have started to research their potential jurors, not everyone is inclined to admit to doing so because the rules are not completely clear on this activity. This now poses the question; do you have to disclose findings of your research? The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(3)) state that any materials created in preparation for trial is considered attorney work production. Therefore, there would be no duty to disclose any findings on the jurors. While social media really is not any different than a juror talking to his or her family about the case prior to the verdict, this now takes the conversation to an endless supply of friends or connections that they might have. One post could basically receive thousands of replies back in a short period of time and change the opinion of a juror. These influences can easily be spread to other jurors on the panel. Judges need to explain the importance of being impartial and they need to repeat this point if the trial is set to go multiple days. Rhonda Jensen, CSR, RDR, CRR, CMRS, CME is the president of Jensen Litigation Solutions. Laura joined Jensen Litigation Solutions in 2009. For more information, call (312) 236-6936 or visit www.jensenlitigation.com.
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