Should jurors be permitted to have smartphones while serving jury duty? This is a question facing judges in state and federal courts around the country. Some judges have responded by issuing jury instructions that specifically address juror’s use of technology. Other courts prohibit jurors from bringing phones into the courthouse. Those who oppose the latter option say it’s an unfair and unnecessary burden to jurors who would not be able to reach or be reached by their families.
One judge in Colorado agrees. Judge David Cole denied a request to prohibit jurors from bringing cell phones into the jury box. A defense attorney for Martin Solis Mediola had requested that jurors not be allowed to have cell phones in their possession during the trial, which is scheduled to begin in November. Chief Deputy District Attorney Diana K. May objected to a complete cell phone ban, describing the hardship it would impose on jurors trying to stay in contact with their families.
Although the judge agreed with May, the defense’s concern is a valid one. There have been numerous reports of jurors using cell phones to access the Internet during trial or deliberations. The concern is that, once online, jurors may conduct their own research–about a party in the case, for example, or, as seen in one recent case, by looking up the definition of a word used in the jury instructions. Dictionaries are not permitted in the jury room and a juror who accesses a dictionary online and shares that information with other jurors could cause a mistrial.