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Trials & Litigation

Pretrial searches of jurors’ social media could prevent mistrials, judges suggest

Posted Jul 9, 2014 1:40 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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If a juror lies when asked about his or her background, that can be grounds for a mistrial. And, given the proliferation of social media, it's a lot easier than it used to be to find out when a juror has withheld information.

But deciding whether to grant a mistrial is a time-consuming process, complicated by the fact that a juror often may not interpret legal language in a question as an attorney expected.

A Florida judge thinks there may be a more efficient way to deal with the issue.

Instead of waiting until after a verdict is rendered to look into the background of jurors selected to hear the case, suggests Circuit Judge Anthony Rondolino, lawyers in complex litigation could be given time at the outset and encouraged to perform social media searches on jurors right then, so any objections about lack of disclosure could be raised before trial, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

It remains to be seen whether state appeals courts will think this idea is legal, the newspaper notes.

Meanwhile, the present system does offer disgruntled litigants and their counsel a relatively easy-to-get second bite at the apple, Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Tom McGrady says.

"In the old days, the losing side would have to send out a private investigator and snoop around,'' McGrady tells the newspaper. Today, online social media posts often offer "a gotcha card. They can wait and see how the verdict stands and then pull it out.''

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