Model Jury Instructions Deal With Social Media Head On

The legal system is struggling to keep up with the rapid changes that technology continues to present. Social media in the courtroom is one of the challenges facing lawyers and judges across the country. There have been reports of the improper use of social media by witnesses, jurors, lawyers, and judges. Jurors, though, seem to make the news most often, with stories of jurors posting information about the cases on which they’re sitting on social-networking sites, on blogs, and on Twitter.

One way to address the issue has been with modified jury instructions that deal directly with the use of social media by jurors. But, until recently, there has not been any sign that the federal judiciary will follow with a similar response. The first signal of change on the federal level, though, comes from a committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which has endorsed a set of model jury instructions for federal judges to help deter jurors from using cell phones, computers or other electronic technologies during their jury service.

The Committee on Court Administration and Case Management “developed these instructions to address the increasing incidence of juror use of such devices as cellular telephones or computers to conduct research on the Internet or communicate with others about cases,” wrote Judge Julie Robinson, committee chair. “Such use has resulted in mistrials, exclusion of jurors, and imposition of fines.”

The Blog of Legal Times provides the actual text of the model instructions, which follow.

Before Trial:

You, as jurors, must decide this case based solely on the evidence presented here within the four walls of this courtroom. This means that during the trial you must not conduct any independent research about this case, the matters in the case, and the individuals or corporations involved in the case. In other words, you should not consult dictionaries or reference materials, search the internet, websites, blogs, or use any other electronic tools to obtain information about this case or to help you decide the case. Please do not try to find out information from any source outside the confines of this courtroom.

Until you retire to deliberate, you may not discuss this case with anyone, even your fellow jurors. After you retire to deliberate, you may begin discussing the case with your fellow jurors, but you cannot discuss the case with anyone else until you have returned a verdict and the case is at an end. I hope that for all of you this case is interesting and noteworthy. I know that many of you use cell phones, Blackberries, the internet and other tools of technology. You also must not talk to anyone about this case or use these tools to communicate electronically with anyone about the case. This includes your family and friends. You may not communicate with anyone about the case on your cell phone, through e-mail, Blackberry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, through any blog or website, through any internet chat room, or by way of any other social networking websites, including Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

At the Close of the Case:

During your deliberations, you must not communicate with or provide any information to anyone by any means about this case. You may not use any electronic device or media, such as a telephone, cell phone, smart phone, iPhone, Blackberry or computer; the internet, any internet service, or any text or instant messaging service; or any internet chat room, blog, or website such as Facebook, My Space, 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.

This is a topic that is certain to stay on the radar for quite some time. The only question seems to be how quickly courts incorporate this type of instruction.

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Filed under For Legal Professionals, Jurors, Social Media

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