How Technology Can Influence The Impartiality Of Jurors

Thursday, June 6, 2013, AM | Leave Comment

We all know by now – after centuries of knowledge – that jurors cannot talk to anyone outside their close-knit 12-member family at the time. They cannot research the case. They are under the protection of the law – not because someone will harm them but that the jurors might harm someone on trial, either reaching a verdict against the innocent or in favor of the alleged criminal.

However, in this digital age, it is still possible to “quarantine” the jurors but if not implemented correctly by the authorities can bring about a verdict based on prejudiced opinion.

Angry Juror

Misconduct by jurors…

Impartial jury is one of the most fundamental of American institutions. It has been reported in the media time and again that through social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, jurors have committed significant misconduct.

  • Just recently, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed a death sentence because a juror Tweeted about the case during deliberations.

  • An issue created national attention recently in Baltimore MD, where five jurors were accused of using a social-networking site to inappropriately discuss the ongoing trial of the city’s mayor.

  • For centuries now, judges have instructed jurors to avoid reading newspaper stories about trials and to not discuss the case with one another, aside from their deliberations.

  • They also warn them not to conduct their own investigations. The rules are designed to ensure that jurors contemplate only the evidence admitted at trial and at the appropriate time.

  • Judges and legal experts are particularly concerned about how technology and culture are affecting jurors and a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

The last sentence should be of particular interest to many: “The defendant’s right to a fair trial.” I remember reading about a certain ruler who used to say “I rather see 70 people acquitted – even though they might have committed the crime they were charged for – than to see one innocent punished.

Research shows…

The legal profession is no stranger to social media. As one article recently observed, “jurors, judges, witnesses, clients and opponents all use social media, and so too must the savvy litigator, both to research and prepare their case.”

Indeed, for better or worse, lawyers are frequently using social media to discover information about potential jurors, opposing counsel, and (less frequently) the judge herself. Reporters have used services like Twitter to “live Tweet” from the courtroom, and federal and state courts are beginning to develop a social media presence.

Jurors must not have cell phones…

For all the legal professionals, using social media is good and dandy. However Jurors must not be allowed cell phones of any kind during the trial.

12 Angry Men

From the start of the trial until the verdict is reached, jurors must not have contact with the outside world.

If they were not allowed to read newspapers in the not-so-old times, they must not be allowed to have mobile devices on their person.

In order to accomplish impartiality of the jurors, all such gadgets must be confiscated until the verdict is reached and the trial comes to an end.

In a Nutshell
Technology is obviously a great tool but it can be a great distraction as well. I don’t know the legality of such issues, but it seems highly unethical and inappropriate to talk to anyone outside the 12-members of the jury.

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