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Legal Issue – How Social Media Affects Jurors In A Courtroom

With technology being mainstream in our daily lives, the challenges in picking a jury become increasingly difficult.  The fear of information leaking or becoming available to the public about a private trial is at the top of the watch list for judges, jury managers and district attorneys alike.

In one Trenton, NJ, courtroom, the jury manager spends most of his or her time shepherding potential jurors, and explaining to them to dos and don’ts around the usage of technology in or near the courtroom.  Cellphones, tablets and laptops are ok in and around the waiting room, but in the courtroom all cellphones must be turned off.  Other devices like laptops, tablets and so-forth are checked in and jurors are given a tag to reclaim their items once they leave.

Jurors are not only advised on what items must not be discussed with the outside world, they are also advised on what can and can’t be shared through social media channels with specific devices. Some judges now even include a separate speech regarding the use of these devices and specific social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. Also, jurors are strictly forbidden to use tools like Google Earth to visit the crime scene or do any research online about the case, as this information can be very easily traced and tracked by many online sources (think cookies). 

The list of digital dos and don’ts continue to grow exponentially. So much so that one may feel in some sort of digital confinement to what they are normally used to when using technology and social media. In this age of instant digital information where everyone looks for everything from restaurants to where to shop online, this process can almost become counterintuitive to the normal user.

One specific example of this was a juror involving a drug case in New Jersey.  The juror found information about a minimum prison term that he thought would pertain to the defendant if he were to be found guilty.  The result ended in a mistrial with a deadlocked jury. The juror was then fined 500 dollars for the infraction.

The biggest question that’s presented here is,  “Where is the line?”  With social media being an integral part of our lives, there will be some instances where jurors going digital will infringe on the line of perjury and other cases where society may simply have to accept digital communication as harmless and casual conversations.

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