Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dial M for Mistrial

The New York Times ran a headline announcing the not-so-surprising news that "As Jurors Turn to Web, Mistrials Are Popping Up." iPhones and Blackberry devices have apparently made personal sleuthing irresistible, as the norms of participatory culture collide with the rules of legal evidence. Blocking access to information has been traditionally considered a critical part of ensuring a fair trial, but such regulations might be so at odds with the open access sensibilities of the general public that the flouting of restrictionsis almost unavoidable, when jurors used to looking up big words or checking out the online profile of the person who is talking can't possibly be excluded from juries.

Jurors are not supposed to seek information outside of the courtroom. They are required to reach a verdict based on only the facts the judge has decided are admissible, and they are not supposed to see evidence that has been excluded as prejudicial. But now, using their cellphones, they can look up the name of a defendant on the Web or examine an intersection using Google Maps, violating the legal system’s complex rules of evidence. They can also tell their friends what is happening in the jury room, though they are supposed to keep their opinions and deliberations secret.

A juror on a lunch or bathroom break can find out many details about a case. Wikipedia can help explain the technology underlying a patent claim or medical condition, Google Maps can show how long it might take to drive from Point A to Point B, and news sites can write about a criminal defendant, his lawyers or expert witnesses.

“It’s really impossible to control it,” said Douglas L. Keene, president of the American Society of Trial Consultants.

Judges have long amended their habitual warning about seeking outside information during trials to include Internet searches. But with the Internet now as close as a juror’s pocket, the risk has grown more immediate — and instinctual. Attorneys have begun to check the blogs and Web sites of prospective jurors.

Concealed computing is something that the legal system has not yet addressed, even though it might have almost as many ramifications as concealed weapons have had for case law. As the article explains, stock prices can be manipulated by a juror's Twitter post if a big-bucks judgment is on the way.

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Blogger kennethjulikiera said...

Juries are the last line of defense against a tyrannical state. As a proponent of jury nullification, it pleases me to see this development. Please do keep the readers informed as to how the Empire Strikes Back.

10:31 AM  

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