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US Trials Off Track Over Juror Internet Misconduct 405

aesoteric writes "The explosion of blogging, tweeting and other online diversions has reached into US jury boxes, in many cases raising serious questions about juror impartiality and the ability of judges to control their courtrooms. A study by Reuters Legal found that since 1999, at least 90 verdicts have been the subject of challenges because of alleged Internet-related juror misconduct — and that more than half of the cases occurred in the last two years. Courts were fighting back, with some judges now confiscating all phones and computers from jurors when they enter the courtroom."
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US Trials Off Track Over Juror Internet Misconduct

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  • By being part of a jury pool, you are basically imprisoned during the jury time. Do anything beyond sneezing or don't show up and you get contempt of court and a fine or jail (judge discretion). It is not optional. Anyone see a problem with that?

    • by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @06:27PM (#34507570) Journal

      Not really. if you want to have the privilege of being tried by peers, then you need to man up and do your duty.

      Frankly, I think we should have compulsory military service too. Then maybe we might think more about going to war with everyone if it wasn't predominately poor minorities serving.

      *breaks out the flame-proof suit*

      • Then maybe we might think more about going to war with everyone if it wasn't predominately poor minorities serving.

        Well, MAYBE.

        How many US Senators have "Served" In the military? Congressmen as well? Presidential Candidates? You'll find quite a few (though not all) had spent SOME time in the Military, though often never in any sense of real danger. Or at least, that's what Hollywood, Conspiracy theories, and pop culture in general has led me to believe.

        That whole idea could backfire because the ones in power could feel as though the law is on their side, and that they wouldn't need to actually justify the wars they wage

      • The U.S. combat troops are disproportionately not minority. I don't have the links currently, but the idea that the military was predominately poor minorities was thoroughly debunked several years ago. Minorities are under-represented in actual combat troops.
      • by Velex ( 120469 )

        Frankly, I think we should have compulsory military service too.

        I'd be all for it as long as this ideal society either includes compulsory female military service as well or revokes female suffrage. Service guarantees citizenship, after all. None of this "all people are created equal but some are more equal than others" crap I'm getting sick of in modern society.

      • Who says that I want to have the privilege of being tried by peers?
        If you went from home to home, asking people face-to-face what they prefer, I'd bet that most would easily give up that 'privilege' to avoid the inconvenience of jury duty.

    • by OldeTimeGeek ( 725417 ) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @06:38PM (#34507674)
      Unless you're sequestered (very unusual because of the expense), you aren't "imprisoned", all you're asked to do is not talk about the trial nor gather any information about the matters being disputed. Why is this a problem? Is it so impossible to tell people that you can't talk about it?

      Of course you may be found in contempt of court if you don't show up without notification. Trials are expensive and the schedules are always packed. The trial may have to be delayed because you can't be troubled to show up. And you feel that this is wrong?

      I've served on multiple juries, some trials lasting multiples of weeks. In that time all of my friends accepted that I wouldn't talk about the trial, I didn't run home and look up the particulars of the case (can't say that I wouldn't have loved to, I just didn't) and didn't feel imprisoned. I guess something's wrong with me...
      • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

        Trials are expensive and the schedules are always packed.

        And yet despite all this "expense" they can't be bothered to pay the jurors the market value of their time as well as for inconvenience?

        I suspect more would be happy to serve on jury duty if they got paid the judge's salary to sit there.

    • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @06:43PM (#34507742) Homepage

      No, I don't.

      A citizen of the United States has 3 civic duties:
      1. Vote as wisely as you can.
      2. Serve on juries when called upon to do so.
      3. Contribute funds to pay for the government i.e. taxes.

      Some of them are a pain in the butt - nobody likes paying taxes, for instance. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be willing to do the job that Americans fought and died to have. I've done it, and it's really not all that difficult. You go in in the morning, hang out with a group of strangers you're eventually going to know pretty well, listen carefully to evidence presented to you, and decide whether the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed the crime he is charged with committing. It may take a while, but it's important to do and do well, for the benefit of the defendant, victim, and society. Because it someday might be your future on the line, and you'd want your jury to do the same.

      • by nomadic ( 141991 )
        Weird thing is I am in my mid 30's and I've never been called for jury duty, ever.
      • by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @07:11PM (#34508100) Homepage Journal
        I, and a lot of people I know, would experience (and cause) extraordinary inconvenience if required to serve on a jury. My father-in-law is a salesman without salary; if he's empaneled, his family will do without. My brother-in-law is a lawyer; if he's impaneled, his clients will not be represented. My wife is a doctor; if she's empaneled, all her patients will have their appointments canceled with minimal to no notice.

        I don't like paying taxes, but at least I can predict them. I could tolerate a fixed period of essentially unpaid service to the state if I could know start and end dates six months ahead.
    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      Suggest an alternative.

    • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @07:17PM (#34508168)

      By being part of a jury pool, you are basically imprisoned during the jury time.

      No, you aren't. While I haven't actually been imprisoned, I have been inside a prison and I have served on juries, and they are not even remotely similar.

  • ...and have other Jurors determine their fate. Then we create an infinate loop and cause a DOS to the court system.
  • Instead of picking random people who aren't smart enough to evade duty - forcing them a day (or a few) off work et cetera - why not instead EMPLOY people who are actually responsable, and intelligent enough in order to properly take important decisions? You could call them, uh... judges... instead.

    Problem solved.
    • If you were going to pay people anyway, why not just pay the regular people who are randomly selected? And by pay I mean actual pay, as in what they would have been getting anyway, perhaps with a little extra.
  • Oh no! (Score:2, Informative)

    by brainboyz ( 114458 )

    Heaven forbid a juror look up the definition of a word, or be well-informed about something referenced in the case!

    • That's not how it works. You are not supposed to do any research yourself. You are supposed to decide based on the research done by the prosecution/defense, and not look up stuff on wikipedia or other websites.

    • The point is that if they have a question they ask the judge and not a possibly incorrect definition or other false, misleading, or legally disallowed information on the web. All information a juror gets about a case must come from the judge or the courtroom.
    • Ask the judge about the words you don't understand.

      Or are you smarter than the judge and know how to run trials better based on your extensive experience in jurisprudence?
  • some judges now confiscating all phones and computers from jurors

    That'll work great until cell phones start being implanted surgically [].

  • Considering the number of trials in the US, (26,948 in State courts in 2005 for example, so throw in federal trials an round it off to 300,000 over the period amounts to about 3/10ths of 1 percent.

    While nothing to hand wave away, it still suggests that the problem is tiny, and the vast majority of jurors do their best to follow the rules.

    Only the stupid get caught at this. Those that feel that every facet of their life must be tweeted of facebooked or texted somewhere.

    Others may do "research" without getti

  • There seems to be two general categories of Internet communications when it comes to trials. One is making comments about the process or trial. This I think has always happened to some extent, but was never made public (i.e. telling your spouse about your jury service). The addition of the Internet has made this more of a problem, because in the end, it is supposed to be the juror's decision about guilt, not him/her and the readers of his/her blog.

    On the other hand, looking up terms or information about th

    • by I_Voter ( 987579 )
      dlevitan wrote:
      your only piece of information is from the prosecutor and defense lawyer,

      The prosecutor and defense lawyers speech can also be restricted in most states. The purpose is specifically to limit the juries knowledge to what the judiciary considers relevant. This has been considered constitutional since 1895. Prior to that a jury was often addressed as "the Nation." "Will the Nation please rise" was intoned when the judge entered the courtroom. The tension between the judge, who represent
  • ... and not just about the "jury nullification" thing.

    In some cases, judges have withheld important, material information from the jury in order to get the verdict they wanted.

    The two cases I'm thinking of, one involved some ridiculous charges brought by everyone's favorite criminal UFO cult against one of its critics. The other was a medical marijuana case where the judge concealed from the jury that it was a medical marijuana case, and that the doctor on trial had fully complied with state law. In b

  • While this would suck if it was your $20,000 in legal fees (average for a four day trial in the US) that just went up in smoke because of a twitter post, is one case in every other state per year a crisis?

    This seems like a tempest in a teapot, something for judges to deal with, and worry about, but San Francisco, California Seats hundreds of juries a year. One medium sized city. this doesn't seem to be an issue beyond being a new problem for judges. A comparative study about which Jury instructions seem to

  • The courts and attorneys are very selective about who they choose for a jury. They want the least intelligent and most impressionable people they can find. They don't want people who can think and reason well. They want people who will follow orders and do as they are told. And if they happen to know what a jury is for, they will not be selected.

    The people who fit the profile are also likely to be stupid enough to have an online profile and to openly share information about themselves and what they are

  • 90 verdicts does not seem to be a high number considering the number of cases in the US. How many verdicts were overturned due to juror misconduct that did not involve the internet? This is yet another sensationalist story.
  • by tdelaney ( 458893 ) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @09:33PM (#34509752)

    In Australia, when the jurors enter the jury room at the beginning of the day, all phones, computers or anything which could be used to communicate with the outside world is taken and locked away. At the end of the day the jurors get them back.

    This is standard procedure, to reduce the chance of evidence contamination. Jurors are also required not to perform their own investigations, or to talk about the case with anyone outside of the jury room, both during the trial and after the trial concludes. Breaking these rules can lead to prosecution. I'm always amazed at the stories of jurors in the US talking about trials, why they made their decisions, etc. Here in Australia that would get you locked up.

    Then again, jury selection is also very different in Australia. Neither the defence nor prosecution can ask any questions of the potential jurors. Each time I've been up for jury duty (I've served once) the process was as follows (this was for the Supreme Court of NSW - other courts may be somewhat different):

    1. Potential jurors asked to be excused. Those who were excused were informed that they would be re-summonsed within about 6 weeks. When you're selected for jury duty in Australia, eventually you will have to allow yourself to be part of the jury pool. You're also informed at this point that by turning up for selection, you've avoided a fine of between $1100-2200. Forms regarding payment options are filled out at this time as well.

    2. Those who were not excused were told that they are exempt from any future jury summonses for at least 1 year.

    3. Those who were not excused were told about the case. At that point anyone who already knew particulars about the case, knew any of the defendant, witnesses, or felt they hadany other reason that they could not be impartial about the case were excused.

    4. One at a time, jurors were randomly selected from the remaining pool. Each of the defence and prosecution could "challenge" (reject) any juror, but only by looking at them (i.e. there are no questions whatsoever). The defence and prosecution could each challenge a maximum of 5 jurors.

    5. Once 12 jurors went unchallenged, the rest of the jury pool was dismissed.

    6. The 12 jurors were sworn in and informed of their responsibilities, then taken to the jury room.

    7. Once the trial concluded the jury was dismissed, and were told how long they are exempt from jury summonses (at least 3 years, but can be longer at the judge's discretion, depending on length of trial, etc).

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"