Juror Social Media Misconduct Can Lead To Mistrials

September 20, 2012

Misc. Topics

juror social media misconduct“Order in the court” has a new meaning these days for those sitting in the jury box.  Jurors are being reminded to decide the case solely on the evidence presented in the courtroom without using any type of electronic device or media at any time during presentation of the case or during deliberation of a verdict.

Even a prospective juror should be cautious.  A South Dakota man, who received a jury summons, performed a Google search on a  defendant. He could have been accused of bias for his research because he actually ended up on the man’s jury.

Model federal jury instructions from the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management specifically state the following warning to jurists:  “You may not use any electronic device or media, such as the telephone, a cellphone, smartphone, iPhone, Blackberry or computer, the Internet, any Internet service, any text or instant messaging service, any Internet chatroom, blog or website such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube or Twitter to communicate to anyone any information about this case or to conduct any research about this case until I accept your verdict.”

There are no uniform jury instructions for state courts on this issue.  Many courts have written their own rules aimed at deterring the use of social media during the various phases of a case.

This misuse of the social media has resulted in at least 90 verdicts being challenged over an 11-year period (1999-2010), according to a Reuters Legal Survey.  In almost one third of the cases (28), judges overturned the verdicts or granted new trials.

Here are some of ways irresponsible use of social media have impacted the trial process.

Several jurors in Baltimore, (Maryland) became Facebook “friends” during a prominent trial and electronically exchanged information and commentary with each other about the case.  They also asked outsiders to give an online opinion of what the verdict should be.

In Michigan, a juror posted a Facebook message stating how excited she was to report to jury duty the next day to let the defendant know he/she had been found guilty.  When the judge learned of her post, he removed her from the jury, fined her for contempt of court, and ordered her to write an essay on the Sixth Amendment guarantee that one has the right to a trial by an impartial jury.

A male juror in Florida “friended” a female defendant while serving on her jury.  He was dismissed from the jury when the defendant reported the action to her lawyer.  The ex-juror continued commenting on Facebook, joking about his release from jury duty.  The judge held the former juror in contempt and sentenced him to three days in jail.

A Texas man serving on a jury “friended” the plaintiff in a personal injury case and wound up sentenced to two days of community service.

In a capital murder conviction, The Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a new trial after a juror repeatedly tweeted comments during trial and in deliberations.  The trial court found the defendant did not suffer any prejudice by the juror’s actions, but the state Supreme Court overruled the lower court stating the juror’s tweets constituted public discussion of the case.

In a Pennsylvania case, a mistrial request was rejected after a juror tweeted and published trial updates on Facebook during a state’s senator’s corruption trial.

Some suggest that attorneys should attempt to identify the social media accounts of jurors, even at the prospective juror stage, but many jurors have refused to turn over their social media records to the court when requested or to provide these addresses to lawyers.  They cite privacy rights or claim federal law protects such material from disclosure.

Various courts are contemplating other measures to deal with the social media problem in addition to the written jury instructions.  These include more severe penalties for jurors who are caught flagrantly disregarding warnings about using social media.

It is difficult to police juror conduct in the courtroom, but many judges are finding it is not too difficult to apprehend the guilty parties.  Jurors themselves are reporting those jurors who ignore the social media rules.

This article was provided by the Ohio law firm of Slater & Zurz LLP. If you have been injured in an accident or have a legal problem, please contact Slater & Zurz LLP for a free consultation by calling 1-800-297-9191 or send a message from the website at slaterzurz.com.

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About slaterzurz

Slater & Zurz LLP is an Ohio law firm of highly experienced and respected attorneys. Over the last 40 years, we have developed a reputation for getting positive results for clients. We've been trusted with handling over 20,000 personal injury cases and our clients have received more than $120,000,000.

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