Category Archives: Jurors

Juror’s Online [Mis]Conduct Leads to Appeals and Mistrials in 3 High-Profile Criminal Cases

Attorneys in the Vincent Fumo trial have announced that the State will appeal the sentence, which prosecutors argue is too lenient. The State’s expected appeal will likely trigger an appeal by the defense, who are expected to argue that the case was tainted based on one juror’s postings about the case on Twitter and Facebook.

Melanie McGuire is serving the third year of a life sentence in a correctional facility in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.  She received the sentence after being found guilty of the murder of her husband. Her attorneys appealed the conviction last August, contending that a juror may have blogged about the trial from the jury room.  One news report quotes the defense counsel as saying “exposure to extra-judicial influences fatally undermined the trial’s fairness."

Another story comes from Elizabeth, New Jersey, in the murder trial of gang member Edariel Melendez.  During the trial, several jurors admitted to having viewed a Star-Ledger article about the case on one of the juror’s cell phones. When questioned by the judge, none of the jurors would admit to being the owner of the phone. The judge ruled that the jury was not reliable and had failed to comply with his orders.  He also said that he would consider confiscating the jurors’ phones at the new trial.

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Indiana Jurors Instructed Not to “Talk” About the Case on Social Networking Sites

New jury instructions in Indiana took effect on July 1, 2010.  With the new instructions, jurors called to serve in Indiana will be given instructions that specifically address the use of electronic communication devices.  Jurors will be told that they are not to use electronic devices in the courtroom.  Jurors also will receive explicit instructions to not conduct online research while serving on the jury.  The most interesting and unusual part of the instructions, though, is the instruction to jurors to refrain from talking to any of the parties, counsel, witnesses, or members of the media.  “Talking” includes, says the instruction, “posting information, text messaging, email, Internet, chat rooms, blogs, or social websites.”

Here’s the link to the full text of the Indiana Supreme Court Order.  We originally posted about the Indiana instructions back in May, when we posted a link to the Order in our Social Media Research Repository, where you also can find links to more than 20 other state and federal jury instructions that have bee revised to address the issue of social media.

 

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W. Va.: New Trial for Defendant Who Was MySpace Friend of Juror

In State v. Dellinger, the West Virginia Supreme Court was asked whether a juror’s failure to disclose her social-networking “connections” to the criminal defendant during voire dire was a sufficient basis to overturn the defendant’s  felony conviction.  The court held that the juror’s failure to disclose that she was “MySpace friends” with the defendant, a Deputy Sheriff” violated the defendant’s constitutional right to trial by a fair and impartial jury. 

Immediately following the verdict, the defendant’s attorney informed the judge of possible juror misconduct and subsequently filed a motion for a new trial. The judge conducted an investigation into the allegations and determined that, one week before the trial, the juror sent the following message via MySpace to the defendant:

Hey, I dont know you very well But I think you could use some advice! I havent been in your shoes for a long time but I can tell ya that God has a plan for you and your life. You might not understand why you are hurting right now but when you look back on it, it will make perfect sence. I know it is hard but just remember that God is perfect and has the most perfect plan for your life. Talk soon!

The juror and the defendant became “friends” on MySpace.  When asked whether any of the potential jurors had a business or social relationship with the defendant, the juror did not acknowledge their “friendship.”  The defendant claimed that he did not realize that the juror and his MySpace friend were one and the same until just before the end of the trial.

During trial, the juror posted on her MySpace page, “Just got home from Court and getting ready to get James and Head to church! Then back to court in the morning!”  She also described her “mood” as “blah.”  This message was not  available for viewing on her MySpace page by all of her approximately 130 MySpace “friends,” including the defendant.  

During the court’s investigation, the juror testified that, although she was “friends” on MySpace with the defendant, they had never had a face-to-face conversation and did not have a close personal relationship.  She testified that he was “[j]ust somebody I knew” and that “he’s a cop in the county; everybody knows all the cops.”

When asked about why she did not respond to the voire dire question of whether she knew the defendant, the juror replied:

Bad judgment, I guess. I just didn’t feel like I really knew him. I didn’t know him personally.  I’ve never, never talked to him.  And I just felt like, you know, when he asked if you knew him personally or if he ever came to your house or have you been to his house, we never did.  So I just didn’t feel like I really did know him. . . . That’s why I didn’t say anything.

This case offers an important lesson about the significant difference between the perceptions of social-media users about the impact of their online activities and the legal impact of their activities.   Cases like this certainly do seem to support model jury instructions that specifically address social media and online activity, as well as possibly incorporating similar questions in the voir-dire process.

State v. Dellinger, No. 3573 (W.Va. Supr. Ct. June 3, 2010)

See these related posts:

Jury Instructions on Social Media (And Google Earth!)

Jury Instructions from N.D. Iowa

Michigan State Courts’ Jury Instructions on Social Media

South Carolina Jury Instructions on Social Media

Model Jury Instructions Deal With Social Media In the Courtroom

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Jury Instructions on Social Media (And Google Earth!)

Another example of how courts are modifying jury instructions to specifically address the nuances of modern technology.  The Northern District of Iowa has jury instructions that do an excellent job of tackling enough specific situations without being so broad as to numb the juror listening to the charge.  For example, the jury instructions state that jurors should not:

. . . use any electronic device or media, such as the telephone, a cell or smart phone, Blackberry, PDA, computer, the Internet, any Internet service, any text or instant messaging service, any Internet chat room, blog, or website such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, or Twitter, to communicate to anyone any information about this case until I accept your verdict.

The instructions go on to address jury research during the case, and actually specifies that jurors may not use “Internet maps or Google Earth or any other program or device” to search for information about the case.

A copy of the instructions are linked below and will be added to the Social Media Research Repository, which now includes around 23 different jury instructions that address social media and technology.

Jury Inst. N.D. Iowa

Michigan State Courts’ Jury Instructions on Social Media

South Carolina Jury Instructions on Social Media

Model Jury Instructions Deal With Social Media In the Courtroom

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Ohio Guidelines Address Jurors’ Access to Social Media and Technology

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. 

See also:

11th Cir.:  Admission of MySpace Evidence Harmless Error

Ohio Judge Removed From Case Due to Her (Alleged) Comments Online

Just Sit Right Back and You’ll Hear a Tale . . . of a Lawyer and His Facebook Page

Michigan State Courts’ Jury Instructions on Social Media

South Carolina Jury Instructions on Social Media

Model Jury Instructions Deal With Social Media In the Courtroom

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Wisconsin’s Jury Instructions on Social Media

Wisconsin joined the growing list of states that have modified their jury instructions to address the issue of jurors who conduct independent research on the Internet about the case on which they’re serving.  Wisconsin’s  Criminal Jury Instructions Committee revised its model jury instructions (see Wis. J. Inst., Crim. No. 50) (pdf), in December 2009.  The new instructions admonish jurors not to conduct their own research on cases or to post or e-mail updates about trial proceedings.  The new instructions are not mandatory but are expected to be used widely.

Do not research any information that you personally think might be helpful to you in understanding the issues presented.  Do not investigate this case on your own or visit the scene.  Do not read any newspaper reports or listen to any news reports on radio or television about this trial.  Do not consult dictionaries, computers, web sites or other reference materials for additional information. Do not seek information regarding the public records of any party or witness in this case.  Any information you obtain outside the courtroom could be misleading, inaccurate, or incomplete. Relying on this information is unfair because the parties would not have the opportunity to refute, explain, or correct it.
Do not communicate with anyone about this trial or your experience as a juror while you are serving on this jury. Do not use a computer, cell phone, or other electronic device with communication capabilities to share any information about this case. For example, do not communicate by blog, e-mail, text message, twitter, or in any other way, on or off the computer.

Wis. J. Inst., Crim. No. 50 (pdf) (emphasis supplied)

See also

Michigan State Courts’ Jury Instructions on Social Media

South Carolina Jury Instructions on Social Media

Model Jury Instructions Deal With Social Media In the Courtroom

Provided that you’re not currently serving jury duty, you can follow me on Twitter @MollyDiBi

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Repository of Model Jury Instructions re: Social Media

The tab, “Social Media Research Repository,” at the top of this page, now links to a list I’ve compiled of all of the state and federal model jury instructions that have been revised to address concerns with jurors who conduct internet research about the case on which they’re serving or who blog or post information about the case online.

Currently, there are links to 22 jury instructions, representing 10 states and 4 federal circuits.  Additions are welcome.

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