Social Media in the Jury Box? The Federal Judiciary Has an App for That

Despite every federal judge in the country admonishing jurors against using social media to evaluate the cases they’ve been asked to decide, the majority of federal judges who responded to a recent survey conducted by the Federal Judicial Center say additional steps are needed. In response, the Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management has issued updated guidelines for federal jurors that stress the importance of keeping court cases separate from social media activity.

In addition to recommending that jurors be reminded frequently about prohibitions regarding social media (before trial, at the close of the trial, at the end of each court day, and other times), the new guidelines also stress that jurors are responsible for alerting judges whenever they suspect another juror may be running afoul of social media restrictions. In addition to the updated guidelines, the Committee also is providing posters designed to be displayed in deliberation rooms that reinforce the idea that jurors are required to decide cases based only on information presented in the courtroom.

As we have noted on several occasions, mixing social media with courtroom duties is a recipe for disaster in terms of wasted time and extra expense, both for the courts and the parties involved. The new guidelines will provide federal jurors with clearer instructions on how they are expected to conduct themselves and the consequences if they do not.

And it proves once again that the principles of justice have not changed, but the steps necessary to ensure the integrity of jury verdicts have to keep up with advances in technology. Just as radio, television and the Internet necessitated new rules and heightened cultural awareness of the reasons behind the jury rules, so too will we collectively learn to limit our use of social media when there is a good reason to do so.

Posted: 10/1/2012 6:19:56 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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