Jury Duty and Social Media – what is the impact?

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  • August 1, 2013
legal system and social media

Gadgets and social media have been ingrained in our everyday life. On Twitter and Facebook, it’s normal for anyone with a smartphone to post photos, reactions and comments on certain issues. The impact of getting used to digital life has affected our routines so significantly that judicial courts are challenged to deal with it when ordinary citizens serve on jury duty.

As the case is, anyone required to serve jury duty is required by law to refrain from talking about the case to other people since it’s important for a jury to hold no biases with their decisions. The courts explicitly warn jurors of the consequences for breaking this.

But with social media participation so prevalent, and with Australians getting more and more comfortable with mobile internet, access online has become conveniently a hard habit to break; more so when there is no jury sequestration.

Social media and jury duty become in conflict when:

  • A juror uses the Internet to find information that either helps him understand legal terms better or brings details that are not part of the evidence of the trial.  The juror could read stories about the case, or come across comments and public perception that will lead to prejudgments.  Research done on the Internet could bring inaccurate details, and a juror’s perception of the case may be misleading him to the facts that are presented inside the courtroom.
  • A juror tweeting or posting a status on Facebook about the case could open conversations that will let him discuss the case to those who are not involved. Seeking opinion from people who are not part of the jury can affect decisions that could invalidate the trial.
  • Accessing social media may encourage a juror to get in touch with lawyers, judges or witnesses, asking them to connect on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. This can affect the merits of the case, as well as the rights of the defendant to receiving fair trial.

Where to Draw The Line?

The Conversation acknowledges that this is a problem that may go on for a long time.  “Netizens” who are used to social media and mobile access may find jury restriction a violation of their basic right.  Some courts, however, have imposed stricter penalties for violations using social media, but this doesn’t really address the core problem.

Trials that are dismissed because of tainted merits from the jury cost the government a lot of money. For everyone involved, a mistrial can also be a waste of time and effort. Jury misconducts in social media have already overturned many verdicts and the numbers are increasing.

While proper screening of jurors is a must, Lawyers Weekly suggests that it may be necessary to train jurors and educate them in the use of Social Media while serving their duty.

What do you think? Is there a solution and what is it?

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