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Jurors’ Wikipedia Research, Friending at Issue in Two Md. Cases

Posted Dec 14, 2009 8:01 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Two court developments in Maryland last week highlight the growing problems caused by jurors’ online access during criminal trials.

In one case, a Maryland appeals court overturned a murder conviction because jurors had apparently consulted Wikipedia for explanations of scientific terms, the Baltimore Sun reports. In another, lawyers for Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon sought a new trial in part because five jurors had become Facebook friends during the trial.

The problems are so pervasive that legal experts in several states are rewriting jury instructions to tell jurors they may not conduct online research or use social media during the trial, the story says. New rules in Maryland are expected to be published next year.

In the Wikipedia ruling, the Court of Special Appeals said the Wikipedia definitions were found in the jury room. The information discussed how the settling of blood after death can help determine the time and place of death—issues in the trial of the murder defendant, Allan Jake Clark.

In Dixon’s trial, lawyers said five jurors who became Facebook friends had become a clique that changed jury dynamics. At least one of the jurors heard an outsider’s opinion of what the verdict should be, the story says.

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