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During my recent jury duty experience, I noticed posters around the assembly room entitled “Juror Responsibilities Regarding the Internet and Social Media” produced by the National Center for State Courts and Center for Jury Studies. I am well aware of the issues related to jurors and social media or the internet. And, I think I’d seen a mock up of this poster in the past in NSSC emails. But, being in the assembly room and seeing it on the wall, I had a different reaction than when I’d seen it previously. The poster states:


● Don’t research the case online in any way, including searching for information about the attorneys or judge.
● Don’t communicate anything about the case via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any online messaging service.
● Follow instructions by the judge or other court personnel.
● Immediately report unauthorized use of the Internet or social media to the judge or authorized court personnel.

By following these simple rules, jurors help ensure that all parties receive a fair trial.”

When a judge came down to conduct an initial voir dire on a long case, he essentially repeated these rules, in a very droll manner. There was no explanation of why; there was no explanation of the consequences. And, I have to say, that having heard the judge and read this poster in the context of being a juror, I object. I understand the problems and dangers of jurors and the internet. We have observed problems in our cases and we encourage clients to search and monitor social media at every trial. But, I object for several reasons, to the manner in which this crucial topic is presented to people who have no way to know what damage can be done. In 1957, Henry Fonda, in 12 Angry Men, did his own trial research by going out and buying a knife to match the evidentiary knife. No doubt thousands of jurors have done their homework privately, visited the crime scene, or considered details beyond the scope of the trial before and since then. Today it is easier than ever to do such homework – it just takes a few key strokes. Further, to those who are uninformed, the reasons for not doing so are not “simple.” Virtually everyone who has a smart phone or computer lets their fingers do the walking about almost every aspect of their lives. It is normal. Suggesting, in the last sentence of the poster, that these are “simple” rules in a world where doing some of these things is the norm undercuts reality, in my opinion, and, as a result, this comment seems somewhat condescending. I think this is an area where the judges, clerks, and ultimately, attorneys, who are involved with jurors need to address this in a non-condescending way and truly explain why these rules are in place, and what the ramifications and penalties are for not following the rules. As it was, it seemed like an afterthought, a conversation no one wanted to have and again, expecting prospective jurors to comprehend the severity of the problem they could inadvertently create, with a minimal recitation of “simple” rules, is not going to prevent a problem. Finally, despite the admonitions, trial attorneys must know what the jurors are likely to find when (not if) they do their own “googling” of the case. What will the internet tell them about your client? The reality is that, whether or not the jurors communicate information, “rule 2″, some of them will violate “rule 1.” Don’t be caught off guard.