Updating Rules for Jurors in the Age of Internet and Social Media

Saturday, June 29, 2013
(graphic: Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois)

The modern communications age has forced judges to adopt new rules and pledges before trials so that jurors don’t get into trouble with their cell phones and personal electronic devices.


Travis Francis, the assignment judge in Middlesex County, New Jersey, reads off a laundry list of don’t’s to warn members of a jury about sharing information regarding the upcoming trial or doing outside research.


“Do not use any electronic device,” Francis says, “such as the telephone, cell or smartphone, BlackBerry, iPhone, PDA computer, the Internet, email, any text or instant message service, any Internet chat room, blog or website such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube or Twitter to communicate to anyone any information about the case.”


He also instructs jurors to avoid visiting the scene of the crime or accident virtually by utilizing Google Earth or other similar programs.


Paula Hannaford-Agor, director of the Center for Jury Studies in Williamsburg, Virginia, told NPR that it’s difficult for many people who commonly use their phones and other devices for just about everything to stay off the Internet during their stay on a jury.


She says the problem of jurors looking up legal terms on the Web or sharing their jury duty experience on social media occurs at least once a week, based on what she hears through her work.


Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier in Trenton requires his jurors to sign a pledge before trial, promising not to do any online research or communicating about the trial. If they do, they could be subject to prosecution for perjury.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More

For Modern Jurors, Being On A Case Means Being Offline (NPR)

Internet, Twitter, Facebook Complicate Jury Instructions (by Daphne Duret, Palm Beach Post)

Court Rules Jurors can be Informed that Fact Witnesses are Well-Paid for Testimony (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Internet Searches Beginning to be Used as Evidence in Trials (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)   


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