How much more detailed are jury instructions going to have to be regarding communications via social media during deliberations? Obviously, A. Great. Deal. More. Clear. One juror in a Detroit courtroom proved that this week, when she posted to Facebook how much she was looking forward to delivering a guilty verdict to the defendant. At that point in time, the trial wasn't even over.
Social media and juries are strange new "friends" and as always, the law is running to keep up with the technology. As discussed in a previous post, new model jury instructions have already been proposed to include a prohibition on use of the internet to research the case in progress. However, this case of Detroit juror Hadley Jons Facebooking a premature (to say the least) guilty verdict, is a call to action for litigators in several ways.
First, according to the Canadian Associated Press report, the errant juror's posting would not have been noticed except for the sharp actions of the defense attorney's son, Jaxon Goodman. It seems that Jaxon works for his mom, attorney Saleema Sheikh, and was doing a little online research about the jurors when he came across Jons' Facebook comments. If not for Jaxon's research, the posting might have gone unnoticed. So possibly, some consistent online research during trial would be wise.
Second, an article in the Spring 2010 issue of Minority Trial Lawyer includes some excellent ideas for understanding and controlling a juror's possible online activities during trial. Some particularly good suggestions include asking about social media use during voir dire and asking the judge for a specific instruction prohibiting research and communications on the internet at any time during the trial. Additionally, the jury instructions should explicitly prohibit the use of social media and identify that this includes Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. Finally, request that the judge remind jurors of the penalties for conducting outside research during trial.
The final outcome in the Detroit trial was the removal of Hadley Jons and with the help of an alternate juror, a conviction on the felony count of resisting arrest. There was no verdict reached on an additional misdemeanor charge. At this time, there is no word on a potential contempt charge for Detroit juror and Facebook fanatic Hadley Jons, but you can check her page for updates.