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Mistrials – Blame It On The Web

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 9:15 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Jury Bias, Jury Research, Focus Groups, Mistrials, Evidence, Jury Instructions, Civil Procedure, Jurisprudence, Internet, Twitter, Digital Age

In the electronic age, its getting more difficult to control juries.

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IMAGE SOURCE: Wikipedia Commons/ To Kill A Mockingbird, film 1962, Gregory Peck / author: Moni3 

 

A judge admonishes jurors during a trial  - “Don’t watch any television news reports and don’t read any newspaper accounts.”

That was the old days. Welcome to today.

Last week a juror in a federal trial in Florida admitted to the judge he had been doing research on the Internet.  The judge then polled the rest of the jurors, thinking that one juror could easily be dismissed in the drug trial and replaced with an alternate.

Instead, he got an even bigger shock.   

Eight jurors had also done research on the Internet.  A mistrial was declared and eight weeks of work by prosecutors and defense lawyers was for naught. 

“It’s the first time modern technology struck us in that fashion, and it hit us right over the head,” said defense lawyer, Peter Raben to the New York Times.

This case is not an isolated one.

Twitter, Facebook, BlackBerrys, iPhones, Google, Wikipedia – all of today’s social network are merging with electronic means of communication and information sites to allow jurors to send out or take in information about the case they are hearing.

As the technological landscape has changed, the jury instructions have not.   

Jurors are supposed to reach a verdict based on information presented in the courtroom and nothing else.  Information may have been intentionally omitted as potentially prejudicial as part of pre-trial proceedings, developed over years of jurisprudence.

“That’s the beauty of the adversary system,” Professor Olin Guy Wellborn, of the University of Texas and co-author of a handbook on evidence law tells the New York Times. “You lose all that when the jurors go out on their own.”

Mistrials blamed on the Internet are popping up around the country.

A federal corruption trial of a former Pennsylvania state senator ended in a guilty verdict Monday. Defense lawyers demanded a mistrial when they found out a juror had posted updates on Twitter and Facebook, promising a “big announcement” on Monday. They will use the postings as grounds for appeal.

Last week an Arkansas court was asked to overturn a $12.6 million judgment after it was discovered a juror used Twitter to send updates on the trial.

There is no official tally of the number of cases increasingly disrupted by the Internet. Some judges confiscate cell phones at the beginning of trial, but unless a jury is sequestered, there is no way to keep them from going online at night. 

Jurors ratting out other jurors seems to be the only way anyone knows the extent the Internet is impacting trials.  #


3 Comments

Anonymous User
Posted by Steve Lombardi
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 12:01 PM EST

There are several problems with how today a person gets what used to be a fair trial. First I'm not sure Judges understand or appreciate social networking and the tools of social networking. Do Judges really know or care about "Twitter" or "Facebook", etc? Second, if jurors don't disclose what they have been doing on the WWW, how would one know? Third, the extensive tools available, like cell phones that can easily be concealed and taken into a courtroom create a nightmare of a problem. And lastly the Judges instructions have to change with the times. What used to work no longer has the same meaning. “Don't watch TV or the News” isn't the same as saying “Don't go on the Internet”. And what is the Internet? Does that instruction mean don’t post by using a cell phone to Tweet or post to a blog? Along with tort reform and the end-justifies-the-means mentality as was being practiced by the Bush Administration for eight years, goes the idea that jury nullification is not just acceptable but the duty of "loyal Americans". Just listen to news-attainment on talk radio. These media personalities don't care about justice or respect for the rule of law; they preach an end result that they or some group dictates. For the court system the media and the Internet have become an enormous and unending challenge.

Anonymous User
Posted by MITCH ALVAREZ
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 3:24 PM EST

In a court setting jurors shouldnt be distracted by a text message or something of the sort. But, if there is any valid information on a Twitter or Facebook, then that evidence needs to be discovery in court. These new media outlets are huge forms of evidence, they can be the last piece of evidence that seeks the real truth,or they can be detrimental to a case. Nevertheless, whatever the situation may be, we live in the greatest country in the world, the law of the land is a system that was designed to find out who's telling the truth, who needs rehabilitation, who has the sometimes unjustful power, but what it oomes down to is you. If you know the truth, and you present it clearly to your legal council than a jury should see the facts, and hopefully do the correct thing. The new media outlets of the world are going to expose everything, its up to you and the people that love you, and trust you, who really matter at the end of the day. The laws arnt gonna change unless an unbelievable scenario so blatetly off course happens, then there will probably at first be confusion, then later it will make sense.

Posted by Darren Wilson
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 5:17 PM EST

Here's the link to that story about the mistrials. This is going to force the courts to deal with information technology in a new way. Let's hope it's in a good way:

LINK

Comments for this article are closed.

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