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New Model Jury Instructions Tell Jurors to Turn in Others Who Flout Social Media Ban

Posted Aug 23, 2012 2:50 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Updated: New model jury instructions (PDF) developed by a federal Judicial Conference committee expand a previous ban on social media use and explain in simple terms that jurors are not supposed to use electronic tools or talk about the case, period, except during deliberations.

"In other words, you cannot talk to anyone on the phone, correspond with anyone, or electronically communicate with anyone about this case," state the model instructions recommended by the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management for use at the end of trial. "You can only discuss the case in the jury room with your fellow jurors during deliberations."

The instructions also list, generally and specifically, what is apparently intended to be an all-inclusive list of prohibited methods of communication via social media and other electronic means and impose on jurors a duty to turn in other jurors who violate this ban.

Specifically prohibited are cell phones, Blackberries, iPhones; the Internet, email, blogs and websites; and text messaging, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube. In case something is left out of this list, the instructions also prohibit using "other tools of technology" and "any similar technology of social media," regardless of whether the judge specifically mentioned it.

"I expect you will inform me as soon as you become aware of another juror’s violation of these instructions," the judge is supposed to inform jurors, both at the beginning and at the end of trial.

Apparently seeking juror cooperation, the model instructions also offer an explanation of why the sweeping ban on communication is necessary:

"You may not use these electronic means to investigate or communicate about the case because it is important that you decide this case based solely on the evidence presented in this courtroom. Information on the Internet or available through social media might be wrong, incomplete, or inaccurate. You are only permitted to discuss the case with your fellow jurors during deliberations because they have seen and heard the same evidence you have. In our judicial system, it is important that you are not influenced by anything or anyone outside of this courtroom. Otherwise, your decision may be based on information known only by you and not your fellow jurors or the parties in the case. This would unfairly and adversely impact the judicial process."

A press release provides further details.

A report (PDF) on a survey conducted by the judicial conference says judges generally have learned about prohibited social media use from another juror, if they learn about it at all, explains the Technolog page of NBC News.

"This social media use most often took the form of posts about the progress of the case or the juror’s service in general," the report states. "There were several instances of jurors attempting to contact participants in the case via social media."

Hat tip: Blog of Legal Times

Additional and related coverage:

ABAJournal.com (2010): "Judicial Conf. Group OKs Model Rules Barring Juror Talk, Texts & Tweets"

ABAJournal.com: "A Shock for Judge Zloch: 9 Jurors in 1 Trial Doing Web Research"

ABAJournal.com: "Convicted Murder Defendant Sentenced to Death Gets New Trial over Juror’s Tweets"

ABAJournal.com: "Defended by Attorney Twitter Pal, Jury Foreman Escapes Court Sanction for Prolific Trial Tweets"

Updated on Aug. 28 to include information from Technolog.

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