Lawyers handling civil disputes – accident, injury and medical malpractice cases – face the onslaught of multi-million dollar propaganda put out by big business, the insurance industry and medical associations. In an effort to protect themselves in court, these juggernauts will typically complain of “jackpot justice” and demand tort reform. These are challenges met quite often in the courtroom -they’ve existed for decades.
But there’s a new obstacle lurking in the court room – one that could have never existed in the 20th century. It shouldn’t be too surprising, but smart phones and the internet have started to disrupt the order and integrity of the courtroom.
What Is The Role Of The Jury?
Courtrooms are to be respected and a juror’s verdict is dependant only upon a few key factors. Essentially, a juror should base their decision on the following:
1) Evidence presented by relevant parties.
2) Testimony of witnesses.
3) Argument of counsel.
4) The judge’s instruction on the law.
Judges will advise jurors to not discuss the case with anyone until the time for deliberation comes. Jurors are admonished not to speak with family or friends or answer any questions – it’s also imperative that they do not conduct independent research.
Here’s The Problem
Some jurors cannot resist using their smart phones to search particular terms or gain additional information. Juror’s decisions are bound by the facts presented within the court – any information acquired outside of the courtroom debases the inherently pure nature of the courtroom.
Jurors sometimes also post and tweet during the ongoing case, jeopardizing the integrity of the case in the process. How can a juror claim impartiality if he or she is tweeting?
“This guy looks guilty to me! #letsgetthisoverwith.”
Social Media’s Damage
The cultural obsession with social media isn’t surprising. Social media can be a wonderful tool that allows for rapid communication and instant contact with friends and family, but the court room is no place for it. Numerous verdicts have been reversed on appeal, mistrials have been declared and some losing parties struggle with the thought that a juror independently found unfavorable information.
Whether or not a party has been arrested is not admissible. The reason is at the core of our justice system – innocent until proven guilty – everyone is considered innocent until they’ve been proven otherwise. With a host of websites offering criminal record information for free, one or two clicks and jurors discover “unfavorable” information that the law may regard as irrelevant.
Is There A Solution?
In an effort to curb this problem, courts have attempted to control juror access to their devices. California provides written instructions that ban jurors from using electronic communication of any form. In Florida, jurors are prohibited from disclosing their thoughts pertaining to their jury service on the internet and they are not allowed to search the internet for guidance on how to decide.
However, since most juries are not sequestered, jurors will still have the opportunity to use their devices in violation of court orders. Until jurors realize that they’re jeopardizing the case and its outcome, improper influences will continue to impact our courtrooms.
Tony Caggiano, an attorney at Florida Trial MD, is the author of this article. Mr. Caggiano often publishes content that pertains to relevant legal issues. He is passionate about writing and loves to share his wealth of information.