A proposed rule for San Francisco Superior Court would require jurors be specifically instructed that, “You may not do research about any issues involved in the case. You may not blog, Tweet, or use the Internet to obtain or share information.”
Jurors are of course not supposed to look to outside sources for information about their case, and as the FindLaw Technologist blog notes, it “makes abundant sense for judges to be very clear in admonishing jurors that not only should they refrain from trying to learn about a case from traditional outside sources, they also must be told specifically not [to] seek case information from any electronic source, and examples of such prohibited sources should be enumerated.”
There really should not be anything controversial about the proposed rule – it is open for public comment until October 23 and would go into effect January 1 – but it is striking how anachronistic it seems. Telling jurors they cannot use the Internet to do research – or write about it on their blog or TWEET DIRECTLY FROM THE JURY BOX seems pretty obvious.
In March, The New York Times ran through several cases hampered by jury Internet misconduct. One such case involved a request to turn over a $12.6 billion verdict in a construction case because a jury member used Twitter to send updates during the trial. In another, eight jurors in a federal drug trial in Florida admitted to Web-based research about the trial. Attorneys and judges alike were shocked that jurors did not consider Googling the defendant to be outside research, or just did not see the harm in it.
Like the clunky Pacer system, the court system appears to be largely behind the times on this one. No jury instruction should be complete without a clear instruction that Internet research is still research and Twittering about the trial is still talking about the trial. We can probably all agree this should be obvious – but we can also all agree that telling the jury the obvious is much more efficient that a tossed out verdict and a long appeal.
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