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New Model Jury Instruction Takes Aim at Twittering Jurors


After fifty 'leven recent examples of trials being upended by jurors improperly using their cell phones, computers, Twitter or other communications technologies during jury service, a committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States has had enough. The Blog of the Legal Times' Marcia Coyle reports in this post that the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management has endorsed a set of model jury instructions for district judges to help deter jurors from engaging in such mischief.

In a memorandum to district court judges, Judge Julie Robinson, the committee chair, wrote that the model instructions were developed to address the increasing incidence of jurors using such technology to conduct research on the Internet or communicate with others about cases, which has "resulted in mistrials, exclusion of jurors, and imposition of fines.” There is still no uniform standard for jurors in state trials, the BLT reports.

The model instructions include the following key points:

During Trial:

  • " should not consult dictionaries or reference materials, search the internet, websites, blogs, or use any other electronic tools to obtain information about this case or to help you decide the case. Please do not try to find out information from any source outside the confines of this courtroom."
  • "I hope that for all of you this case is interesting and noteworthy. I know that many of you use cell phones, Blackberries, the internet and other tools of technology....You may not communicate with anyone about the case on your cell phone, 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, My Space, LinkedIn, and YouTube."

At the Close of the Case:

  • "During your deliberations, you must not communicate with or provide any information to anyone by any means about this case. You may not use any electronic device or media, such as a telephone, cell phone, smart phone, iPhone, Blackberry or computer; the internet, any internet service, or any text or instant messaging service; or any internet chat room, blog, or website such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube or Twitter, to communicate to anyone any information about this case or to conduct any research about this case until I accept your verdict."

I think that a big part of the "Twittering Juror" problem (and its various sister problems) is that social media is so new that jurors are not clear that using technology in the ways described above is off-limits. This model instruction is direct enough that it should ease that problem considerably.

Posted by Bruce Carton on February 9, 2010 at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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