(Wired) — A federal court policy-making body is belatedly entering the internet age by proposing that judges clearly inform jurors they must not electronically discuss cases they are hearing.
It’s standard procedure to inform jurors to remain mum and not conduct any research about the case until a verdict. But recent gadget use by jurors has forced the hand of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy-making body of the federal courts.
The model jury instructions the Judicial Conference released to the federal judiciary in late January specify:
“You may not communicate with anyone about the case on your cellphone, through e-mail, Blackberry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, through any blog or website, through any internet chat room, or by way of any other social networking websites, including Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and YouTube.”
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson of Kansas, the chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, told the nation’s judges in a Jan. 28 memo that the new jury instructions “address the increasing incidence of juror use, of such devices as cellular telephones or computers, to conduct research on the internet or communicate with others about cases.”
Robinson told fellow judges that “more explicit mention in jury instructions of the various methods and modes of electronic communication and research would help jurors better understand and adhere to the scope of the prohibition against the use of these devices.”
A federal drug trial in Florida ended in a mistrial last year when eight jurors admitted they were doing internet research on the case they were hearing.
Among other examples, there was a call, although unheeded, for a mistrial when a juror was discovered tweeting and publishing trial updates on Facebook in the prosecution of Vincent Fumo, a former Pennsylvania state senator convicted of graft.
There are no nationwide instructions for the state courts, because each state adopts its own set of jury instructions. Florida, for instance, is recommending that its judges instruct jurors multiple times “that they cannot perform outside research using the internet, or use electronic devices to communicate about the case.”