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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 @03:11AM (#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 siloko (1133863)
      Maybe that's so but it still feels like the little boy with a finger in the dyke - I know, I know times have changed and that means something quite different now ;)
    • by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @03:28AM (#31006874)

      I can't imagine call phones or networked computers are allowed for a sequestered jury anyway - but I think "sequestering" a jury is pretty rare - the state has to provide hotel accommodations and food to everyone in the jury, which is really expensive!

      This seems to be about recommending that ALL jurors refrain from accessing these social networks, etc. But I can't see how it's practical outside of the courtroom or deliberation. They can "instruct" the jurors all they want not to go online for the length of the trial, but that's not going to stop too many people...

      • by BrokenHalo (565198) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @03:41AM (#31006948)
        I can't imagine call phones or networked computers are allowed for a sequestered jury anyway

        Here in Western Australia, the courts "ask" you to surrender your phone. Doesn't even matter if it doesn't have a camera.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by deniable (76198)
          It was all electronics/recording devices the last time I had jury duty. You used to have to hand them to the Sheriff's officer as you went in to the box, but now it's only if you're actually empaneled. There was no 'ask,' it was a 'must' for us. I've gone three times, into the room four, into the box once and got challenged. They seem to change the setup every time. The last time they'd moved the court.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by coaxial (28297)

        This seems to be about recommending that ALL jurors refrain from accessing these social networks, etc. But I can't see how it's practical outside of the courtroom or deliberation. They can "instruct" the jurors all they want not to go online for the length of the trial, but that's not going to stop too many people...

        The rules aren't any different than the current rules for jurors. You're not allowed to discuss the case, and refrain from news about it. This is just updating the rules for the 21st century.

        • by the_womble (580291) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:23AM (#31007222) Homepage Journal

          Exactly, unfortunately most people here need to RTFA.

          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, the group stated.

          There are a lot of comments below that are obviously by people who did not read that.

          • by IBBoard (1128019) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:53AM (#31007382) Homepage

            But, as with so many other new laws, why is it even necessary when there are already laws in place?

            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.

            So that would be "You're not allowed to discuss the case, and refrain from news about it" with the extra clarification of "using any technology available, whether it existed at the time the law was drafted or not". That's still "You're not allowed to discuss the case, and refrain from news about it", whichever way you look at it. Unless someone was completely short-sighted in drafting the original law then these rewrites seem pointless and overly verbose purely for the sake of having another law.

            • by Golddess (1361003)
              Some might say those places don't count as news sources.

              <tin_foil_hat>Maybe the real purpose of this law is to give the courts something to point to to say that such places aren't actually "news" (aka, the press), and thus they do not qualify for 1st amendment protections.</tin_foil_hat>
      • by aussie_a (778472)

        This is akin to saying "Juries shouldn't use the telephone or read a newspaper." In fact some of the restrictions are just that (the iPhone is a telephone).

        Are these restrictions arbitrarily selecting modern communication methods? Or are these in addition to banning the use of landline telephones and newspapers?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Dan541 (1032000)

        They can "instruct" the jurors all they want not to go online for the length of the trial, but that's not going to stop too many people...

        I don't see how they can reasonably expect people to cease existing. Without the internet there's nothing.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jimbolauski (882977)

        This seems to be about recommending that ALL jurors refrain from accessing these social networks, etc. But I can't see how it's practical outside of the courtroom or deliberation. They can "instruct" the jurors all they want not to go online for the length of the trial, but that's not going to stop too many people...

        All that the committee is saying is that jurors can't use electronic media in the court house and can not use electronic media to research or discuss the case outside the courtroom.

    • by poetmatt (793785)

      sure makes it easier for the smart folks to avoid a jury trial if they wish to do so.

      end result: annoying to do on small cases.

  • And? (Score:4, Funny)

    by OverlordQ (264228) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @03:17AM (#31006802) Journal

    This is surprising how?

    Such use has resulted in mistrials, exclusion of jurors, and imposition of fines. ... The instructions state jurors must not [...] 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.

    Because we all know Facebook and YouTube are full of impartial people who know anything about case law.

    • Re:And? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by japhering (564929) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @10:48AM (#31009640)

      The issue is people using the internet to look up information that they have been told they can't use when deliberating.

      Things like the defendants personal wealth, criminal record, information on "evidence" that has been ruled inadmissible or just plain trying to stir up public opinion in an effort to sway the court.

      On the flip side some defendants have tried harassing jurors via their personal electronics or having some one physically show up at a jurors residence or place of work.

      However, given that most juries are not sequestered, this like all the other instructions depend on honesty of the juror and the people they associate with.

      Having been on a non-sequestered jury for a murder trail, it is a pain in the butt to go home after a day in the jury box and not be able to watch the evening news, read the days newspaper,just surf the internet or discuss with your significant other (all things banned by the judge in his instructions).

      How was your day?

      Jury duty all day.

      What type of case?

      Can't tell you.

      How long will it last?

      Can't tell you?

      I'm going to bed, will you watch the news and tell me what the weather will be like tomorrow?

      Sorry, I can't watch the news.

      Well, then look it up on the internet.

      Sorry, I'm not allowed to use the internet.

      Then how are you going to stay caught up at work?

      I won't I'm on jury duty and can't use the internet.

      and on and on and on

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Because we all know Facebook and YouTube are full of impartial people who know anything about case law.

      Yeah, how could you compare them to the legal skills of Ask Slashdot!

  • WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EzInKy (115248) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @03:30AM (#31006892)


    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?

    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Mr. Freeman (933986)
        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.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        So provide the jury with a copy of Blacks Legal Dictionary. Or start operating the courts in English so that normal dictionaries are as right as any others.

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        Okay, a jury being uninformed in the sense of the person on trial - that's fine. But what good reason is there for there not to be a relevant law library in every deliberation room? How is a juror understanding the law itself in any way unfair to either side (except for those who are counting on an ignorant interpretation of the law to get their client off the hook)?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BrokenHalo (565198)
      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:5, Insightful)

      by mpoulton (689851) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:05AM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rts008 (812749)

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

        If I had mod points currently you would see a '+* insightful' just for that. Sorry you have to see this comment instead. :-)

        The key word that applies to this is jury duty . Duty...it implies a lot of things, very often not pleasant.

        The present day attitude of lack of personal responsibility and self entitlement is despicable, IMO.

        Except for the fact that this affects everyone, and not just the self-entitled 'not my fault because *insert 'reason' here*' asshats...well I could not care less for their perceive

        • 'Duty' normally implies that someone with a vested interest in you doing something wants to construct an emotive reason why you should, because they can't justify it any other way.

          A better term would be jury service, because you are serving your community, but servants still get paid, a butler will be paid ~ £30,000 \year - he may be a servant, but he's paid a stonking pile of cash because of the unpleasant stuff that he has to put up with.

          In conclusion, I'd be more in favour of jurors being treated l

          • by jackbird (721605)
            as a condition of doing this voluntary work, they have to shred their ability to maintain a social life.

            I served three days on a criminal trial once, and my friends and family still recognized me at the end of it. In fact, I was even allowed to go home and interact with (nearly) whomever I chose outside of normal business hours.

            Also, you're ignoring the payoff of jury duty/service that if you are ever charged with a crime, you get to have a jury of your peers determine your innocence or guilt.

      • by bmo (77928)

        Mod parent up.

        "Overrated" was a chickenshit move.

        --
        BMO

      • complete control of the jury's information feed will give the best and most consistent results for any party to the dispute
        What I don't get is if you are going to reduce juries actions to an essentially mechanical processes what is the point of having a jury in the first place?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cbeaudry (706335)

        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 wa

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ztransform (929641)

        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 i

      • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by pla (258480) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @01:03PM (#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.
  • But please pay me more than 15 dollars a day for my pain and suffering, not to mention people thinking I'm dead after not tweeting or updating facebook for more than 24 hrs!

    I do wonder how this would affect the jury selection process though. This isn't *suppose* to have any influence at all I am sure, but what if more people who don't use the internet end up being jurors? Kind of like only pro-death penalty people being allowed on a capital case.

    • Dumbass, it's not "pro-death-penalty" people. It's people that aren't biased for or against the death penalty. "Pro-death-penalty" people aren't allowed on any more than "anti-death-penalty" people are.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kramerd (1227006)

      Serving as a juror is a responsibility as a US citizen, and whatever you get paid for doing so is an honorarium, not a salary. Payments for pain and suffering, on the other hand, are generally settlements for tort liabilites, and the honorarium you receive for completing jury duty is not compensation for completing jury duty. It is so that the normal expenses that you would not otherwise suffer (such as lunch and parking) become a net cost of 0.

      News flash - you don't get paid for voting either.

      If more peopl

    • people thinking I'm dead after not tweeting or updating facebook for more than 24 hrs!

      Perhaps jury duty works differently where you are. The last time I was called in, I received notice several weeks beforehand. Ultimately I only went two days for a couple hours each day. I'm quite sure nobody thought I died in that time frame.

      Furthermore this may actually only apply to jurors who are drawn for the trial (as opposed to alternates or extras), once the trial has begun. I would be surprised if more than a handful of people per year ended up being disconnected for more than 2 days.

  • by creimer (824291) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @04:28AM (#31007246) Homepage
    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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by meringuoid (568297)
      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.

    • Then they'd have to call it "12 Horny Men," a misleading title that would only attract a specific demographic, who would then be disappointed...

  • by A nonymous Coward (7548) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @06:38AM (#31007894)

    I know about the artificial separation of judges deciding law and jurors deciding fact, but forget that for a moment.

    Jurors are presumably supposed to use their judgment to decide the facts -- are the witnesses trustworthy, is their testimony full of inconsistencies, how do different witness's testimonies stack up against each other ...

    But all this REQUIRES that jurors use their own knowledge to some extent. If a witness says something that is obviously wrong to a car mechanic but not an ice cream clerk, that mechanic darned well better tell the other jurors why he thinks the witness is lying. Jurors are expected to NOT drop their real-world knowledge at the door. (I am particularly thinking of My Cousin Vinny, where only a car fanatic would know vital clues about the tire tracks and what kind of car could have made them.)

    Now how is this different from a juror who knows just enough to be wary of something and looks it up (NOT during the trial, but at home, or even during deliberations)? It's all fine and dandy to say that is up to the opposing lawyer to handle, that jurors are not police or investigators, but that is word games. If I knew something before the trial, I am expected to use that knowledge to uncover bad testimony. But if I acquire that knowledge during the trial, I am supposed to pretend I don't know that a witness is lying?

    Maybe a case can be made for looking up a witness's past history, but even then I don't think so. If I knew a witness personally before the trial, knew he had a history of lying, knew he hated the defendant or was jealous of him or was in love with him, whatever kind of influence you can think of, that is part of my knowledge and part of how I decide what is true and what is false. Even if the only reputation they have is from always appearing in newspapers under unsavory conditions, I am not expected to forget all that when evaluating their testimony. And yes, I am ignoring the idea that prior criminal history is not supposed to be part of a defendant's current trial, but I also think that is bunk -- if some guy has been to jail a half dozen times for beating people up, that sure as heck is significant.

    This all stems from olden times when jurors had no way of looking things up, and very little need. But the world is more complicated now, people know more and get around more, and I'd rather be tried by jurors who knew how to look up things for themselves rather than sit around like stupified monkeys.

    • by cthugha (185672) on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @08:29AM (#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).

      • by KlomDark (6370)

        Ug, you both make great points. I agree with both. Is there some kind of middle ground?

        I think an informed jury is an effective jury, but I also agree that the accused has a right to challenge any information used by the jury to make their decision. Shit. How to rectify both?

    • by necro81 (917438)

      Maybe a case can be made for looking up a witness's past history, but even then I don't think so. If I knew a witness personally before the trial, knew he had a history of lying, knew he hated the defendant or was jealous of him or was in love with him, whatever kind of influence you can think of, that is part of my knowledge and part of how I decide what is true and what is false

      If you knew a witness personally, any competent lawyer would have you rejected from the juror pool for that trial. If the rela

    • Exactly. If by some nearly impossible set of circumstances they allowed me to sit on a jury for a trial that revolved around computers (e.g. log files, ip tracing, etc), you can be darn sure I'm going to try to explain to the jurors what's either right or wrong with what each side said. Of course, if the attorney for one side or the other is afraid of this, they'll find a way to get rid of me in voir dire.

  • by Narcogen (666692) <narcogen&narcogen,com> on Wednesday February 03, 2010 @07:44AM (#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.

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