Thursday, March 04, 2010

No Tweeting in the Courtroom

No Tweeting in the Courtroom

Anyone who has ever been on a jury knows that the judge issues a warning, informing jurors they must not discuss the case with anyone or do any research about it on their own time, but some say that warning is simply outdated. In an age where almost everyone owns either a computer or cell phone and uses those gadgets almost daily, some feel a judge should also remind jurors that this means discussing a case electronically, as well.

They may be a little late to come up with this idea, but the Judicial Conference of the United States, a federal court policy-making body, has released model jury instructions that state:

"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."

The memo was released in late January by Judge Julie Robinson, a United States District Judge in Kansas and the chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management. According to Robinson, the proposed 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."

Last year, a federal drug trial in Florida ended in mistrial when several jurors confessed to using the internet to do research related to the case. And when former Pennsylvania state senator Vincent Fumo was on trial for graft last year, his legal team called for a mistrial when it was discovered that a juror was posting updates related to the trial on Facebook and Twitter.

Each state is currently able to adopt its own set of jury instructions, so the recommendations are just that. However, some states, such as Florida, already mention electronic device and internet use during trials.

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