Jan. 18, 2011 at 1:24 PM ET
If you care about fulfilling your civic duty, you might want to watch what you're posting on Facebook, as attorneys are now using the social network to gauge whether or not you can serve objectively on a jury of your peers.
The Cameron County District Attorney's office in Brownsville, Texas will be checking out potential jurors using not only the usual methods of voir dire, but also incorporating Facebook profiles available to the public when making decisions about who will serve on juries.
"It is good to be able to access that (social media information) to be able to look at it. You always want to be ahead of the defense bar or at least on par with it," District Attorney Armando R. Villalobos told the Brownsville Herald. "I would like my attorneys and staff to use every available tool in their arsenal, because that is what it is for."
Apparently, a recent courtroom Wi-Fi upgrade gave Villalobos the inspiration to incorporate social media as part of the jury screening process. But the depth of Facebook access depends on how stringent the potential jurors' privacy settings are. If people keep their Facebook profiles secure with privacy settings, the prosecutors would not even get the data points they already have access to from the beginning of the selection: name, children, religion and employer.
"People tend to post more freely on Facebook than they might face to face," Villalobos told reporter Laura B. Martinez. "As a DA, I would be all for it because the more information I have, the better off we are going to be in getting a fair jury and getting the convictions and acquittals the system needs to function."
Having been through jury selection twice, and having seen it in action for cases I covered as a reporter, I can tell you, injecting Facebook details might actually liven things up. For instance, an accused robber whose attorneys are trying to portray as a malcontent due to his parents' lack of rules might be able to identify like-minded souls using Facebook.
Defense attorney: "I see you 'liked' and shared that Wall Street Journal story about the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua. Does that mean you promote strict parenting? Would it bias you against parents who have raised their children under more fluid boundaries, such as those who let their kids sleep over at other kids' houses?"
Of course, a person's profile page and wall — if it's accessible to the public, and that's a big if — can also reveal how they feel about any number of issues, including gay rights, the death penalty and immigration. So, if a person wants to get out of jury duty, maybe the way to go about it is to load up the page with a lot of commentary professing strong opinions. But this DA is counting on potential jurors to have a high degree of candor in their Facebook lives.
"I think if a juror recognizes that it is information that is being used for that particular purpose on who the jurors are, how they feel on the issues and help streamline the process and make it quicker, I feel the juror would be fine with that, knowing the information will be dumped at that point," Villalobos said.
Would you be fine with that?