Juror Use of Social Media: The ABA Releases New Rules

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 29, 2012

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Juror texting in courtroom.The ABA has just released new rules regarding juror use of social media. There are no real earth-shaking surprises here. According to the ABA Journal, the model rules prohibit any juror from using any means of communication (including cell phones, computers, tablets, etc.) to discuss the case with anyone. The only time a juror may discuss the case is during deliberations with fellow jurors, period. To stop rogue jurors from violating the no-talk, no-text ban, the rules impose upon fellow jurors the responsibility of turning in the violators by informing the judge.

Beyond discussing the case, jurors are also prohibited from using electronic devices to search for information relevant to the case. No additional research or investigation is allowed. Jurors must use only the information given to them inside the courtroom as information outside the courtroom may be inaccurate, misleading or irrelevant. These restrictions are actually put in place to ensure a fair trial, and while the reasons may seem obvious to most of us, some jurors have managed to cause a lot of trouble as a result of their uncontrollable desire to get social. One juror in Florida was caught friending the defendant in his case on Facebook. Another juror in Arkansas tweeted about her case during trial, causing a murder conviction to be thrown out.

Judges are increasingly aware of juror misconduct through social media outlets, though few know how to prevent it once jurors leave the courtroom. Some states have already passed laws restricting juror use of social media to research or disseminate information about their case.

Proposed model jury instructions are available to read online at the US Courts website.

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