Jurors empaneled for a trial typically are instructed by the judge not to do anything on their own to learn about the facts and circumstances of the case outside of the courtroom. This traditionally has meant that they should not talk to people with knowledge of the case, they should not visit the scene of the events at issue, and they should try to avoid any television or any newspaper coverage of the trial. But in the new Internet age, it appears that judges have to be even more specific in their admonitions to jurors.
We live in a world where we can find out almost anything from the Internet by the simple movement of our fingers on relatively tiny devices. In just a matter of seconds, from practically any location, jurors can seek information relating to parties, witnesses and the issues at stake in a given trial. This, of course, can taint the jurors such that they would not be deliberating in the case based only on the facts presented to them at trial. So, are jurors seeking outside information electronically about their
cases? Well, the San Francisco Superior Court is concerned enough that
it has a proposed a rule to deal with this potential problem. Pursuant
to the proposed rule, which would become operative on January 1 and
which is open for public comment until October 23, jurors would be
instructed specifically as follows: "You may not do research about any
issues involved in the case. You may not blog, Tweet, or use the
Internet to obtain or share information."
This rule was proposed reportedly as a result of the San Francisco
Superior Court previously having to excuse an entire panel of 600
jurors when several of them admitted that they had conducted Internet
research regarding the case. These jurors indicated confusion about
whether the admonition that had been given about not conducting outside
research applied to the Internet.
Furthemore, during jury selection in Alameda County, California a year
ago, despite being admonished by the judge not to conduct outside
research, a prospective juror admitted to your author, the defense
trial attorney in the matter, that she had gone on the Internet to find
out about the corporate defendant. This corroborates that Internet
research by jurors regarding their cases is an issue.
It is reasonable to expect that the natural curiosity of some jurors
and the ease and habit of Internet research might cause them to let
their fingers do their walking into finding out about their cases
outside of the courtroom. This undermines the judicial process, as
jurors only are suppose to be presented the facts as deemed appropriate
by the judge.
It therefore makes abundant sense for judges to be very clear in
admonishing jurors that not only should they refrain from trying to
learn about a case from traditional outside sources, they also must be
told specifically not seek case information from any electronic source,
and examples of such prohibited sources should be enumerated.
Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP
(http://www.duanemorris.com) where he
focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology
and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive
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This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and
should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are
those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law
firm or its individual partners.