While the development of social media and electronic communications has brought some useful advancements to the courtroom, it's difficult to deny that juror tweets and Facebook updates have become a distinct problem in criminal prosecutions.
Responding to a series of high-profile cases leading to appeals and overturned convictions, California Governor Jerry Brown approved a new law last week, criminalizing the use of electronic and wireless devices by empanelled jurors.
Under the amended statute, state judges must instruct jurors that they may not use any form of "electronic and wireless communication" to "conduct research, disseminate information, or converse with, or permit themselves to be addressed by, any other person on any subject of the trial."
Disobeying this order is misdemeanor criminal contempt punishable by up to six months in jail.
Even though codifying these instructions and stating a definable punishment is a positive step towards safeguarding jury impartiality, it's unclear whether the law will have any actual impact on juror tweets and other communications.
For a few years now judges across the country, including many California counties, have been instructing jurors that the traditional ban on outside research and conversations applies to social networking and the internet.
Jurors in some of these cases still failed to heed the warnings, putting cases in jeopardy.
It may end up being the case that juror tweets and Facebook statuses are something the court system will have to deal with, just as it has always had to deal with gossiping and overly-curious jurors who do their bidding via telephones and books.
- New California law bans jurors' texting, tweeting (Associated Press)
- Keeping Jurors From Straying Electronically (FindLaw's Technologist)
- Clipping Jurors' Wings: New Jury Instructions Say No Tweets (FindLaw's Strategist)