Last year a San Francisco Superior Court judge dismissed 600 potential jurors after several acknowledged going online to research the criminal case before them.
Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon challenged her misdemeanor embezzlement conviction after discovering five jurors “friended” one another on Facebook during the trial.
And a federal judge in Florida declared a mistrial after eight jurors admitted Web surfing about a drug case.
But the rules for jury service in state and federal courts alike are evolving to grapple with this 21st century issue. New jury instructions are being adopted and electronics are being banned from courtrooms.
In January, the federal court’s top administrative office, the Judicial Conference of the United States, issued so-called “Twitter instructions” to every federal judge, which are designed to be read to jurors at the start of the trial and before deliberations.
“You may not use any electronic device or media” in connection with the case, the recommended federal instructions admonish. They also bar visits to “any Internet chat room, blog, or website such as Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, YouTube or Twitter.”
San Francisco Superior Court on Jan. 1 began including such instructions after some of the 600 jurors said they went online because there were no explicit prohibitions against such independent research.
“You may not do research about any issues involved in the case,” the new instruction states. “You may not blog, Tweet, or use the Internet to obtain or share information.”
A California legislator last month introduced a bill that would charge wayward jurors with a crime. So, keep those cell phones off when in court, don’t friend any of the other jurors on Facebook and don’t tweet what is happening in court while you are sitting on the jury.