In a state first, the Massachusetts Appeals Court has asked judges to more closely monitor the social media use of the jury, so as not to risk a mistrial. Essentially, judges will now make sure jurors stay off Facebook and Twitter during trials, regarding any conversations about the case.
The change was prompted by a Plymouth Superior Court larceny case to where a few jurors were adding trial comments to their Facebook Timelines, which were garnering responses and “likes” from their friends. While the social networking didn’t affect the outcome of the case, this sort of thing could turn into a distaster in a larger trial, say something like the
$1 billion Oracle/Google infringement case.
According to the court, “Jurors must separate and insulate their jury service from their digital lives – Instructions not to talk or chat about the case should expressly extend to electronic communications and social media.’’ The problem with social media in court is nothing new – last year the capital murder conviction of a man in Arkansas was overturned due to Twitter, after a juror tweeted details of the case before a verdict was reached. Judges have been aware that restrictions need to be placed on juror “public discussion” via online forums. The National Center for State Courts and a federal judicial conference committee have also put together some rules to instruct jurors, to dampen the risk of Twitter misconduct.
With so many mundane tweets concerning what one’s dog ate at brunch, all the juicy court details afforded by jury duty seem to be obvious points of Facebook mention, and some jurors might have a difficult time staying off of social media. Eric P. Robinson, deputy director of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Courts and Media at the University of Nevada, states, “It’s a growing issue. There are ways to address it, but I don’t think anyone has found a solution – The judge has to explain, ‘This is why we’re doing this, we’ll have to have a retrial, we’ll have to spend money.’’’
Robinson adds, “Jurors do have a sense of responsibility, and want to follow the judge’s instructions.’’ Though, some jurors also have a sense of responsibility to Twitter, and Robinson was perhaps right in pointing out that there’s no set solution to the problem as of yet.