The Impact of Social Media on Juries
By K. Brooke Moynihan
The American legal system is grappling with how to handle jurors’ use of social media. Jurors are using social media to research cases they are serving on and communicating about the facts of the cases they are hearing. Examples of juror misconduct using social media abound. “A Michigan judge fined a juror $250 and ordered her to write an essay about the Sixth Amendment after finding out that she had posted a comment on her Facebook page that she thought the defendant was guilty before the defense had presented its case” (Casell, 2011). And in Maryland, “Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals, in an unreported opinion, overturned a felony-murder conviction because a deliberating juror conducted an on-line search for the terms “livor mortis” and “algor mortis” on Wikipedia, printed out the pages, and brought them in to the jury room. The juror’s action was discovered when the jury bailiff found the print-outs in the jury room after the jurors were excused for the day. The only information that a juror may consider when deliberating on a case is that which is presented during the course of the trial. When asked about it, the juror said, “To me that wasn’t research. It was a definition” (Sweeney, 2010). The problem with these types of incidents is that when jurors communicate about or research issues presented to them in a trial, they jeopardize a defendant’s 6th Amendment Constitutional right to a trial by an impartial jury. “The explosive growth of social networking has placed enormous pressure on one of the most fundamental of American institutions – the impartial jury. In recent years, social networking services like Facebook and Twitter have become frequent vehicles through which jurors commit misconduct” (St. Eve, 2012). How can the right to an impartial jury be assured in the age of instant access to information?
Courts have begun to give additional instructions to juries that include mention of the use of social media during the pendency of a trial. In 2010, the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management of the Judicial Conference of the United States sent a memorandum to all judges of the United States District Courts providing them with recommended jury instructions addressing juror use of electronic communication technologies (Robinson, 2010). “The problems presented by jurors using social media and the internet continue to arise with great frequency and courts and lawyers will need to carefully evaluate how to react in a way that will continue to ensure fair trials based only on the evidence presented in the courtroom but also recognized that we will not be returning to an era when all phones were land line, home computers did not exist, and where the principal vehicle for jurors to acquire bias was the daily newspaper” (Sweeney). Measures that have been proposed include amending model jury instructions and including instructions about social media and internet research during juror orientations. Some trial consulting businesses have even begun to offer social media monitoring services to their clients (Flinn, 2011). The impact of social media is felt far and wide, and has even made its way to the hallowed halls of the courthouse. In the near future, the legal community can expect to see many measures taken by the judiciary to safeguard the jury trial system.
Casell, J. (2011). To tweet or not to tweet: juror use of electronic communications and social networking tools. Jounal of Internet Law, 15(5), 15-20.
Flinn, R. (2011). Social media: a new jury selection tool. Bloomberg Businessweek. www.businessweek.com/printer/articles/55622-social-media-a-new-jury-selection-tool
Robinson, J. (2010). Juror use of electronic communication technologies. Washington, D.C.:Retrieved from http://www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/News/2010/docs/DIR10-018.pdf.
St. Eve, A. & Zuckerman, M. (2012). Ensuring an impartial jury in the age of social media. Duke Law & Technology Review(3/13/2012), 1-29.
Sweeney, D. (2010). Social media and jurors. Maryland Bar Journal, 43(6), 44-49.