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Social Networks The Courts The Internet

Courts Move To Ban Juror Use of Net, Social Sites 288

Posted by kdawson
from the tell-no-one dept.
coondoggie passes along a NetworkWorld report on the pronouncement of a judicial conference committee recommending that trial judges specifically instruct jurors not to use any electronic communications devices or sites during trial and deliberations. Here's the committee report (PDF). "If you think you're going to use your spanking new iPhone to entertain yourself next time you're on jury duty, think again. Judges are going to take an even dimmer view of jury member use of Blackberry, iPhone, or other electronic devices as a judicial policy-setting group has told district judges they should restrict jurors from using electronic technologies to research or communicate. ... The instructions state jurors must not use cell phones, e-mail, Blackberry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, or communicate through any blog or website, through any internet chat room, or by way of any other social networking websites, including Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and YouTube."
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Courts Move To Ban Juror Use of Net, Social Sites

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  • by dreamchaser (49529) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:11AM (#31006764) Homepage Journal

    How is this different than any other method of sequestering a jury? It makes perfect sense to me, human nature being what it is.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:23AM (#31006854)

    Yeah, I'm certainly not going to agree to being sentenced to weeks of solitary confinement without having myself been accused of a crime. Even prisoners get to receive visitors and make phone calls.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:41AM (#31006944)

    >but denying the use of dictionaries makes no sense at all.

    It does make sense. That's because most dictionaries do not give the legal definition for a term, and the legal definition can vary from state to state. If you are unsure, and you are on a jury, you have the foreman ask the judge the meaning of a word.

    For instance, there is the colloquial definition of the word "insanity" yet in the United States there are 51 legal definitions (50 states plus federal) of that term.

    I am sure NYCL and other actual lawyers here that can chime in on this topic.

    Looking shit up in a dictionary can be a very bad thing.

    --
    BMO

  • by coaxial (28297) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:55AM (#31007040) Homepage

    I guess courts treat jurors like children.

    Only if as a juror you behave as a child, and can't respect the rules of evidence.

    These rules have been around for centuries. As a juror, your information about the case you're hearing is to come through testimony given in court. This allows for a fair trail, since both sides can attempt to refute the evidence and testimony. If you go around playing amateur Columbo and CSI, you're going screw up someone's life. You are not an expert. You don't know what you're doing. You're engaging in the CSI effect [wikipedia.org].

    Don't. Just don't. If you do, I'd want you thrown off my jury.

    And forget bringing your laptop or iPad into the court room to take notes about what's going on in court, so you can make an accurate decision when it comes time for deliberation.

    Exactly. That's why they give you *gasp* a pen and paper!

  • Re:WTF? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BrokenHalo (565198) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:56AM (#31007046)
    How in the world is a "normal" person supposed to know when the judge or attorney is trying to pull a fast one

    You're not. You're expected to do as you're told, and think what they tell you to think. It's common for some sort of deal to have taken place, or for some sort of circumstance affecting another case to have occurred, but the jury is usually kept in the dark about it, even if they do catch a strong whiff of rodent.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @02:56AM (#31007048)

    It's like you didn't even read what I wrote, skipped right to the last line, and didn't think for one second that wrong information can be worse than no information.

    Let me repeat it again, slower this time, and louder: TYPICAL DICTIONARIES DO NOT HAVE THE CORRECT LEGAL DEFINITIONS IN THEM THAT YOU CAN USE IN A JURY ROOM, WHICH IS WHY YOU SHOULD ASK THE JUDGE FOR THE DEFINITION OF A TERM THROUGH THE JURY FOREMAN.

    --
    BMO

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mpoulton (689851) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @03:05AM (#31007104)

    Specifically, those instruction spell out that jurors should not you should not consult dictionaries or reference materials, search the internet, websites, blogs, or use any other electronic tools to obtain information either before the trial, during deliberations or after until the judge instructs otherwise.

    Okay, maybe if jurors were required to pass some type of basic test that indicates they have a reasonable understanding of basic terms this would make sense, but denying the use of dictionaries makes no sense at all. How in the world is a "normal" person supposed to know when the judge or attorney is trying to pull a fast one when they aren't even allowed to research what is being said?

    If the definition of a word is of critical importance in a case, that is all the more reason for jurors NOT to consult a dictionary. Dictionary authors are not the final arbiters of legal disputes, and their opinion on what words mean carries no weight in court. Besides, which dictionary rules? No, it is the jurors' understanding of the relevant terms that governs. The parties will surely spare no efforts in explaining their preferred interpretations, if it's important to the case. If it's not a matter that's open to interpretation by the jurors, then the judge will provide the definition to be used. These same rules apply to all information in the trial, not just definitions of words. Any information the jury needs to know to resolve the case must be provided by the parties, or by the judge. If the parties fail to provide enough information, they suffer the consequences in the form of a poorly informed verdict. Because outside information cannot be vetted for accuracy or legal relevance, and cannot be rebutted by the parties, it is ENTIRELY IMPROPER for jurors to consider it, and DEFEATS THE PURPOSE OF THE TRIAL PROCESS! Before you argue otherwise, put yourself in the position of either party to the case and consider how you would want this to be handled. You will inevitably reach the same conclusion - complete control of the jury's information feed will give the best and most consistent results for any party to the dispute. Jurors find this frustrating, but trials do not exist for their entertainment.

    How can jurors tell if a lawyer (or more importantly, a witness) is pulling a fast one? Two ways: first, the other attorney damn well ought to be calling him out. That's his job. Second, jurors apply the same common sense factors that let them determine trustworthiness every day outside the courtroom. What if the judge is pulling a fast one? That's not for the jury to identify or correct - that's what appellate courts are for. Appellate judges earn their salaries by determining when trial judges got things wrong.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:37AM (#31007596)
    Alright, it makes sense that juries shouldn't consult just any random dictionary. But what's wrong with them consulting the relevant legal dictionary for whatever state/court system/etc. they're in? If they're in Colorado then they should be allowed to consult whatever dictionary is used to define legal terms in Colorado, etc.
  • by deniable (76198) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @05:43AM (#31007924)
    Then you're a perfect candidate for jury duty. They like the dumb ones.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @06:10AM (#31008048)

    Raises hand in court. "I have a question. I was surfing the web on my phone last night, googling the defendent's name..."

    Would that be good enough to get kicked out of the jury during the middle of the trial?

    Oh, and don't forget those sites that you can pay for background information about people.

  • by Narcogen (666692) <.moc.negocran. .ta. .negocran.> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @06:44AM (#31008220) Homepage

    The summary here contains a pullquote that has been specifically edited in a misleading way to turn what is basically a non-story into a story.

    The summary says:

    Judges are going to take an even dimmer view of jury member use of Blackberry, iPhone, or other electronic devices as a judicial policy-setting group has told district judges they should restrict jurors from using electronic technologies to research or communicate. ... The instructions state jurors must not use cell phones, e-mail, Blackberry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, or communicate through any blog or website, through any internet chat room, or by way of any other social networking websites, including Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and YouTube."

    Pay close attention to the ellipses after "communicate".

    This quote appears to be from the committee report, but the committee report link is broken; it contains no href, just anchor tags.

    The article says:

    "the suggested instructions specifically inform jurors that they are prohibited from using these technologies in the courtroom, in deliberations, or outside the courthouse to communicate about or research cases on which they currently serve"

    Not convinced yet? Here is the complete first paragraph from the committee report [uscourts.gov] mentioned, but NOT linked to, in the quote contained in the summary:

    "At its December 2009 meeting, the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) endorsed a set of suggested jury instructions that district judges should consider using to help deter jurors from using electronic technologies to research or communicate about cases on which they serve. The suggested instructions are included as Attachment 1."

    Emphasis is mine in previous two quotations. In other words, you are not banned from using these devices or services. The article mentions that you may not use these things to discuss or research the case. The networkworld article uses the inflammatory word "ban" in its headline (inappropriately) and the Slashdot post goes even further, deliberately eliminating context crucial to understanding the actual guidelines and replacing them with ellipses.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @06:48AM (#31008236)

    When I served, they offered to provide a notebook, which they would keep when I was not in the courtroom.

    The biggest effect is that this will prevent the juries from researching their rights, and the ability to be fully informed i.e. the right to nullify.

  • by cthugha (185672) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @07:29AM (#31008420)

    The difficulty with jurors accessing material outside of the evidence led in court is that the party against whom that material is used has no means of challenging or testing it, since (a) it's not been disclosed to anyone outside the jury room and (b) even if it were disclosed, who's available to be cross-examined on that material? Are you going to go out and drag the journalist, dictionary editor, Wikipedia contributor, blog author, etc into court after both sides have closed their cases? How are you even going to be able to identify or locate that person?

    Jurors (and judges, in judge-only trials) are limited to considering only what has been formally admitted into evidence to ensure that basic procedural fairness applies to all the material used in the case. Further, the public would be prejudiced in their ability to assess the result of the trial if they didn't know about all the evidence themselves, which can't happen unless it is all led in open court.

    This doesn't stop jurors from applying the general knowledge and "common sense" of the ordinary person to resolve conflicts in the evidence as directed by the judge and after hearing counsels' arguments on the point, but the rules of evidence in most jurisdictions also say that if a party doesn't challenge a piece of evidence then the court is obliged to accept that evidence.

    Finally, your point about criminal histories is based on a half-truth: criminal history is admissible when an accused brings character into issue, e.g. by suggesting that a prosecution witness is lying. Otherwise, it's on the prosecution to prove that the person committed this particular offence (at least it is outside the US).

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by egburr (141740) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @07:30AM (#31008424) Homepage

    Yeah, the AC did read what you said. That's why he suggested to "start operating the courts in English" as opposed to legalese that only superficially looks like English but has completely different non-obvious meanings for words that ordinary people use all the time.

    Typical juries don't even know that they don't know the meaning of the words. The words are ones they use all the time, so they think they know the meaning and see no need to ask for an official definition. It is the legal system that perverts those meanings.

    If you want the jury to get it right, come up with a list of commonly misunderstood (for the courtroom meaning) words and make sure to spend some time educating the jurors. Don't wait for them to ask the meaning of words, because they already think they know the meanings. Sometimes, they will start to realize things aren't making sense and will try to figure out what's wrong.

    I would be much more likely to try to look it up myself instead of asking the judge to explain it. For one thing, even the friendliest of judges is very intimidating, just because he is a judge and you are in his courtroom, whether you're the one on trial or not.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cbeaudry (706335) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @07:34AM (#31008436)

    How about, we live in 2010.

    The average Joe is 10 times more educated than 300 years ago and will use that education when forming his opinion.
    Allowing that person to read a dictionary, research terms, definitions, subjects, etc... allows for a TRUE jury of his peers.

    Throwing them in there blind is the stoopidest shit every. Its about the theater of the court room, and a person can be thrown in jail because of the incompetence of the defense or the other way around (someone can walk because the prosecution was incompetent).

    If the jury is supposed to be the decider, then allow them to decide.

    Again, we are in 2010, time to stop this fucking gaming of this system bullshit.

  • by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @07:35AM (#31008442)
    If they remake the movie "12 Angry Men" (like everything else these days), the story will be about 12 angry men who are kept locked up in a jury room with no access to their online porn.

    At least one of those men was angry because he was missing a baseball game. Same thing, different decade.

  • by tehcyder (746570) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @07:54AM (#31008564) Journal

    The biggest effect is that this will prevent the juries from researching their rights, and the ability to be fully informed

    Juries do not need to research their "rights" while a trial is on, they should be concentrating on the evidence in court, and if there is a point of law or something, they should ask the judge.
    Also, there is no "right" to be fully informed (i.e. have 24 hour a day access to the internet or whatever) in any case.

  • by tehcyder (746570) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @08:04AM (#31008618) Journal

    Yeah, I'm certainly not going to agree to being sentenced to weeks of solitary confinement without having myself been accused of a crime. Even prisoners get to receive visitors and make phone calls.

    Fuck it, let's just abolish the jury system entirely, since all it does is get in the way of my TV watching.
    Obviously anyone in court is guilty or they wouldn't be there, so let's just let the judge decide on the sentence and stop all that time-wasting with so-called "evidence" and the frankly tedious process of allowing a "defence".

  • by dreamchaser (49529) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @08:04AM (#31008620) Homepage Journal

    That was funny in a sense, but also very very sad. There is a growing population that would have a very hard time using a pen and paper. I know you were joking, but I see this as a problem. The more one grows to rely (as opposed to just using) technology the more one is incapable of taking care of oneself when deprived of said technology.

    I'm all for tech obviously or I wouldn't be in IT and wouldn't post here, but your 'joke' just underlines how weak and soft people are growing as they increasingly rely on tech that could go away in a heartbeat.

    One big EMP and there would be a bunch of geeks milling around not quite knowing what to do as they slowly starve to death staring at their smartphones waiting for them to turn back on.

  • by arb phd slp (1144717) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @08:05AM (#31008624) Homepage Journal

    Raises hand in court. "I have a question. I was surfing the web on my phone last night, googling the defendent's name..."

    Would that be good enough to get kicked out of the jury during the middle of the trial?

    Oh, and don't forget those sites that you can pay for background information about people.

    If you're going to pull a stunt like that, do it when they are selecting, not in the middle of the trial. What you describe is just being an asshole messing with people's lives.

  • by Sancho (17056) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @10:02AM (#31009870) Homepage

    And the summary cuts out that very important, relevant bit. Was that an attempt to sensationalize the story?

  • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ztransform (929641) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @10:26AM (#31010176)

    Jurors find this frustrating, but trials do not exist for their entertainment.

    Trials do not always exist for the purpose of a just decision, either. How many times have Microsoft conducted confusing court cases in front of ordinary juries in an attempt to prevent justice!

    To control what a juror may know or not know is an abuse of human rights; the whole reason a jury is involved is to get a decision from "the people". Putting "the people" in a cage and controlling what they know and how they may rule is the legal system's attempt to remove power from "the power" and place it back in the hands of judges and lawyers.

    If a juror is to make a decision then no one may morally impede that juror from their duty to make the best decision they can. If the juror visits the crime scene they should be applauded. If the juror researches the web on a topic relevant to the case they should be applauded.

    Only a corrupt member of the legal profession would advocate treating jurors as less than human.

  • Jury nullification has been under fire since the civil rights days. You can not cut it both ways, if you allow it people will get off for heinous crimes they performed to protect the social order and there way of life. Pretty much the minority looses it's right to justice with this in place. Now I would suspect the greater good of not allowing the masses to be downtrodden by the system. To make it effective you would need to merge the powers a grand jury normally has to gather information with a standard jury. To make this whole thing particularly effective you need to stop the practice of using the latitude in punishment to entice people to plead guilty (ie take 2 years now or face 60 if you go to trial) as you should never be punished for exercising your rights.

    As to looking up laws the jury should be free to seek out independent opinions on the law as they are the ones that determine the law not the judge he is just the ringmaster. After all any compotent member of the bar should be able to advise them assuming they do not hold a conflict of interest in the case.

    Easiest way to get off a jurry is to look like you have a clue they like sheep.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pla (258480) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @12:03PM (#31011698) Journal
    Any information the jury needs to know to resolve the case must be provided by the parties, or by the judge.

    This premise leads to an outright absurdity.

    First, you have lawyers speaking what looks like English but has only a thin connection to it. Would you feel comfortable sentencing a man to death in a trial conducted entirely in Mandarin Chinese (or if you happen to speak Mandarin, substitute any other language you don't know)? Except, this works out even worse, since the jury thinks they understand, but most likely do not follow key subtleties in either argument.

    Second, I work as a software engineer. I know, even stated humbly and conservatively, vastly more about how modern electronic devices work than the average Joe. In a trial where such information means the difference between innocence and guilt, you either need everyone to have my level of understanding, or expect me to play dumb and listen to TweedleDee and TweedleDum argue about whether computers run by pixie dust or really small gerbils running on their wheels.

    And finally...


    What if the judge is pulling a fast one? That's not for the jury to identify or correct - that's what appellate courts are for.

    BS. Every single aspect of the trial should enter the jury's consideration. We have Jury Nullification for precisely that reason. Think the judge has pulled a fast one because the government can't afford to let yet another drug smuggler go free on a technicality? Innocent by way of I-bloody-well-don't-feel-like-saying-guilty.

    Unfortunately, that requires having a well informed jury, not the first dozen morons you could find who haven't the curiosity or resources to have watched TV in the last two months.
  • by Darinbob (1142669) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @07:13PM (#31017120)
    Anyone who's gone to school will know how to use either a pencil or a pen. The jurors may have forgotten, but unless they're illiterate they will have learned to write.

    What is worrying some people is that they're so used to using things like iphone or blackberry for every single thing in their lives. They don't phone their spouse, they text them. They need a beep to remind them to get to court on time. They need a gps to tell them which way to turn on the road to get to court.

    There have always been rules of this sort, and it is standard to tell jurors not to read relevant news stories while on a case, and to avoid newspapers and news broadcasts if they can. Though generally the judges know this can be impossible, so just not reading relevant sections or stories is good enough (ie, you can read front page news, but not the locals). No one has ever needed to say "don't read anything, don't talk to anyone", except in some extreme high profile media insanity cases.

    Reading the Fine Article, the judges aren't advised to completely ban these electronic devices, but merely to forbid their use to research or communicate about the case. Which should go without saying. Ie, do not do ANY research on the case, or have ANY communication about the case, regardless of how it's done. Talking to a friend about a case you're on is wrong, whether it's done via tweets or talking to them in person.

    The problem apparently is that we are getting more and more jurors that seem to think these prohibitions don't apply to certain electronic settings. Ie, they may nod their head vigorously when told not to talk to family or friends about the case, but then think nothing of tweeting some details. In some sense the problem is not that jurors haven't learned how to use a pen and paper, but that some of them haven't ven learned how to just shut up and not update the world on their current status.

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