April 8, 2011

"Jurors Gone Wild": Blogging, texting, tweeting in court

On his blog, "Juror No. 7" portrayed the defense lawyer as "whacked out" and having a "Columbo detective-style of acting stupid." He complained about the court's long breaks and likened court staff to "Caltrans freeway workers" who always seem to be "picnicking alongside the freeway." … After complaining about the length of the 19-day trial, he told his readers that he had volunteered to be foreman to "expedite matters." During deliberations, he used his cell phone camera to photograph the murder weapon -- a 15-inch saw-toothed knife -- and posted the image on his blog.

Although an appellate court upheld the defendant's conviction, finding Juror No. 7’s conduct harmless, appellate attorney Linda C. Rush disagreed:
"The problem with his blog was, the responses he got were affirming his cynical attitude toward the judge and the process. He created an audience, and during deliberation he was playing to an audience that other jurors didn't even know was there."

Juror antics like this are no longer unusual, according to an article in the current issue of California Lawyer magazine. Judges and attorneys are finding themselves struggling with "how to protect a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial when jurors are awash in social media, potentially contaminating the integrity of the proceedings," writes Pamela MacLean:
Leslie Ellis, a jury consultant with TrialGraphix in Washington, D.C., says she advises her clients to monitor jurors' Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter accounts and blogs during a trial to make sure none are discussing the case outside court sessions. "That's how a lot of jurors have been caught," she says.

Another possible alternative, raised in a case that may soon be taken up by the California Supreme Court, involves making all private social media communications posted by a juror during trial available to defense counsel.
But how much monitoring is too much? At what point will jurors begin to feel like criminal suspects and balk at serving altogether? And is all this much ado about nothing?

The full California Lawyer article is online HERE.

Related post: Blogging jurors (Nov. 26, 2008)