Aug. 27, 2012 at 1:17 PM ET
While judges have always admonished jurors not to blab during a trial and deliberations, some people can't keep their mouths shut. The growth of social media like Facebook and Twitter have proven too tempting for some jurors, so a new set of guidelines for jurors in federal cases aims to make it crystal clear: Stay off the stuff.
In a new set of jury instructions issued by a Federal Judicial Conference committee, jurors will be told by the judge:
I know that many of you use cell phones, BlackBerrys, the Internet and other tools of technology. You also must not talk to anyone at any time about this case or use these tools to communicate electronically with anyone about the case. This includes your family and friends. You may not communicate with anyone about the case on your cell phone, through e-mail, BlackBerry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, through any blog or website, including Facebook, Google+, My Space, LinkedIn, or YouTube. You may not use any similar technology of social media, even if I have not specifically mentioned it here.
And, the judge will add: "I expect you will inform me as soon as you become aware of another juror’s violation of these instructions."
That's how many judges have learned about such missteps. The conference surveyed judges last fall about jurors' use of social media during trials and deliberations, and found that when "social media use was detected, it was most likely to be reported by a fellow juror."
"This social media use most often took the form of posts about the progress of the case or the juror’s service in general," according to the study. "There were several instances of jurors attempting to contact participants in the case via social media.
Indeed. In Florida earlier this year, a 29-year-old juror who sent a Facebook message to a defendant during a trial, then bragged on the social network about being kicked off the jury, is now himself in hot water — and in jail for contempt of court. In Britain last year, a 40-year-old juror admitted she used Facebook to contact the defendant in a case because she saw "considerable parallels" between their lives.
U.S. District Court Judge Julie A. Robinson, chairwoman of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, which issued the new guidelines, said in a statement that while "the overwhelming majority of judges take steps to warn jurors not to use social media during trial," the judges who were surveyed said that "additional steps should be taken."
"The judges recommended that jurors frequently be reminded about the prohibition on social media before the trial, at the close of a case, at the end of each day before jurors return home, and other times, as appropriate. Jurors should be told why refraining from use of social media promotes a fair trial. Finally, jurors should know the consequences of violations during trial, such as mistrial and wasted time. Those recommendations are now part of the guidelines."
— Via Network World