Courts Issue Revised Warnings For Misbehaving Jurors In The Age Of Twitter And Facebook

If you’ve been called up for jury duty, don’t discuss the specifics or your feelings about the case – or the defendant – on your Twitter or Facebook Page.

Common sense, right? Or so you’d think. But as social media continues to integrate itself into all aspects of our personal and professional lives, its misuse in the court room has caused such an increase in mistrials that new guidelines have been issued for federal judges looking to control bad juror behaviour in their courtrooms.

The revised instructions, which can be read here (PDF), outline how jurors are expected to behave in the social media era, both during and after the case.

I know that many of you use cell phones, Blackberries, the internet and other tools of technology.  You also must not talk to anyone at any time 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, including Facebook, Google+, My Space, LinkedIn, or YouTube.  You may not use any similar technology of social media, even if I have not specifically mentioned it here.  I expect you will inform me as soon as you become aware of another juror’s violation of these instructions.

A Reuters survey revealed that 90 verdicts were subject to challenge between 1999-2010 because of internet-related misconduct, with more than half of these cited cases taking place between 2009 and 2010. Judges granted new trials or overturned verdicts in 28 of these cases.

The examples of juror misconduct are numerous (and mind-boggling). In Michigan, one juror wrote “actually excited for jury duty tomorrow. It’s gonna be fun to tell the defendant they’re GUILTY” on their Facebook Page. The juror was later removed and fined for contempt of court. Other jurors have tried to friend witnesses or have openly discussed cases with friends on social channels.

A national poll recently revealed that 8.5 percent of judges said that they had seen jurors using Facebook, Twitter or other social platforms, as well as smartphones, tablets and notebooks, in the courtroom.

“The overwhelming majority of judges take steps to warn jurors not to use social media during trial, but the judges surveyed said additional steps should be taken,” said Judge Julie Robinson, the Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) chair, in a statement. “The judges recommended that jurors frequently be reminded about the prohibition on social media before the trial, at the close of a case, at the end of each day before jurors return home, and other times, as appropriate. Jurors should be told why refraining from use of social media promotes a fair trial. Finally, jurors should know the consequences of violations during trial, such as mistrial and wasted time. Those recommendations are now part of the guidelines.”

(Gavel image via Shutterstock.)