29 Dec

In our last two blog posts, we discussed a Reuters Legal analysis which revealed Internet access and social media sites are leading a growing number of jurors to engage in misconduct during criminal trials. North Carolina criminal defense attorneys are hopeful this problem can be addressed swiftly, as juror misconduct can deprive defendants of a fair and impartial trial. Today, we will look at how courts are responding to the Internet-related juror misconduct.

Recognizing the danger Internet access can have on a jury, some judges choose to confiscated all cell phones and computers from jurors upon their arrival to the courtroom. California now has civil jury instructions forbidding the use of any electronic communication. Meanwhile, Florida courts have gone a step further by banning jurors from disclosing their thoughts on jury duty or seeking advice on how to decide a case. The Judicial Conference of the U.S., charged with overseeing the federal court system, recommends federal judges to instruct jurors that they cannot use any electronic tools, including the Internet, blogs or websites.

Still, some are urging courts to help jurors use the Internet in a responsible manner. They argue that prohibiting jurors from using electronic tools is unrealistic in our connected culture. For example, Georgia State University Law School professor Caren Myers Morrison sympathizes with jurors, who she says are often confused by information presented at trial and are simply looking for clarification online.

Another consideration is the generation gap that is often present among jurors as well as between jurors and older court officials. Some older individuals do not understand the capabilities provided by the Internet, and are thus ill-equipped to monitor jurors’ Internet activities.

However courts decide to deal with Internet-related juror misconduct, the focus should remain on the rights of criminal defendants, as tainted jury decisions can have devastating results in these situations.

Source: Reuters Africa “As jurors go online, U.S. trials go off track,” Brian Grow, 8 December 2010