Jurors’ use of social media during trial is a hot-button issue. Courts across the country have implemented (formally and informally), new jury instructions designed to address the issue. Lawyers and judges hope these instructions will avoid mistrials and appeals by acting as a deterrent to jurors who would otherwise search the Internet for information about the parties, the lawyers, or the substantive testimony being presented. Links to many of these jury instructions can be found in the Social Media Research Repository, through the link at the top of this page.
The real question these days is whether courts need to formalize such instructions or whether an ad hoc approach will suffice. The Ohio State Bar Association comes down on the side of the former. The State’s Jury Instructions Committee has approved a new jury instruction concerning electronic communications “and other improper influences in civil and criminal trials.” According to the May 26, 2010, announcement:
The new instruction admonishes jurors not to obtain any information from outside sources including the Internet, reference books, newspapers, magazines, television, radio, a computer, a Blackberry, iPhone, smart phone, and any other electronic device, and further admonishes jurors not to send or receive e-mails, use Twitter, text messages or similar updates, blogs and chat rooms, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other social media sites of any kind to obtain information regarding the trial.
The instructions go beyond social media, even addressing the influence of the modern-day crime dramas. Part 3 of the Instructions says:
This would apply to popular TV shows such as Law and Order, Boston Legal, Judge Judy, older shows like L.A. Law, Perry Mason, or Matlock, and any
other fictional show dealing with the legal system. In addition, this would apply to shows such as CSI and NCIS, which present the use of scientific procedures to resolve criminal investigations. These and other similar
shows may leave you with an improper preconceived idea about the legal system.
In light of the continuing nature of the problem of “jurors and technology,” I would not be surprised to see more states adopt jury instructions modeled after the new Ohio instruction.
Provided that you’re not currently serving jury duty, you can follow me on Twitter @MollyDiBi