Has the explosion of social media and our culture's obsession with constant connection begun to negatively impact our juries in criminal trials? A Reuters Legal analysis released earlier this month says yes. As Facebooking, blogging and tweeting have become daily necessities for many, jurors are increasingly engaging in Internet-related misconduct. Many, including North Carolina criminal defense attorneys, are disturbed by this troubling report.
When jurors choose to go online to do further research on a case or use social media to comment on the case or the parties involved, major concerns about juror impartiality are raised. Also, these activities limit the ability of judges to exercise control over their courtrooms. While this could be potentially troublesome, is it really a problem? The Reuters report indicates jurors' Internet activities are causing a stir, resulting in dozens of appeals, overturned verdicts and mistrials in just the last two years.
Juror misconduct is a serious problem. Jurors have been forbidden from obtaining information regarding the cases they are hearing outside of the evidence introduced at trial. However, within seconds, jurors can have look up definitions of legal terms, read news articles about the crime and post or tweet comments on the case.
Jurors across the country are partaking in forbidden Internet activities and jeopardizing the fair trial to which defendants are entitled. For example, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals granted a defendant a new trial this summer after a juror contacted him on MySpace. Also, an appeals court in Florida overturned a man's manslaughter conviction after it was discovered the jury foreman used his phone to look up the meaning of "prudent" online.
In our next blog post, we will continue to look at the troubling trend of jurors engaging in banned Internet activities and the devastating effects this activity can have on a defendant's right to a fair trial by an impartial jury.
Source: Reuters Africa "As jurors go online, U.S. trials go off track," Brian Grow, 8 December 2010