Internet Law

Judge Scheindlin Might Require Jurors in Weapons Case to Sign Pledge They Will Avoid the Internet

The Manhattan federal judge known for her opinions setting out rules for e-discovery has turned to the problem of “Google mistrials.”

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin says she is “keenly aware” of convictions set aside because jurors have looked up information on the Internet during trial, the New York Times reports. At a court hearing earlier this month, Scheindlin suggested a way to combat the problem: Require jurors to sign a pledge promising they will not look up case-related information online. Violations of the pledge could bring perjury charges.

Scheindlin said she would draft such a pledge, and she might require jurors in the trial of Viktor Bout to sign it. Bout is a Russian businessman accused of trying to sell weapons to Colombian rebels. Scheindlin said she was seeking a practical way to keep jurors from finding out information that could be prejudicial.

“I can’t seize their computers and their BlackBerrys,” she said. “I can’t lock them up. I can try to intimidate them.”

Tara Trask, president of the American Society of Trial Consultants, told the Times she’s never heard of a judge asking jurors to sign any kind of pledge or written document. She said she liked the “forward-thinking idea.” New York University law professor Stephen Gillers told the newspaper the idea “can help and certainly can’t hurt.”

Scheindlin is known for a series of rulings in 2004 analyzing what kind of electronic evidence is discoverable and who is responsible for the costs.

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