Jury Foreman Is Fined $500 for Online Sentencing Research; Judge Calls for Revised Model Instruction

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Although a New Jersey judge reminded jurors not only daily but before each break not to do Internet research concerning the case, one juror apparently failed to get the message.

After determining, as he thought, through online research that the defendant in a Hackensack drug case would get a minimum of 10 years if found to have sold 1,500 Ecstasy pills to an undercover officer, jury foreman Daniel M. Kaminsky refused to convict, the Cliffview Pilot reports. As a result, the jury deadlocked.

Independently, an alternate juror who lived next to another Bergen County judge mentioned her concern about the research and another juror contacted the county prosecutor’s office.

Superior Court Judge Peter E. Doyne found Kaminsky guilty of criminal contempt and fined him $500. He said he nixed potential maximum penalties of six months in jail and a $1,000 for the willful violation because Kaminsky, a father of three, recently lost his job. However, some significant punishment was needed to deter others from potentially doing the same thing, the judge said, insisting that it isn’t unreasonable to expect jurors to follow instructions about abstaining from Internet research.

“This court rejects the notion the American courtroom, with its constraints and controls developed over the centuries, with its methodical and deliberate means of proceeding, is somehow incompatible with or outdated in today’s world of high-speed information on demand,” Doyne wrote. “Indeed, the proliferation of electronic information renders the sterilized atmosphere of a courtroom even more important.”

Although other jurors on the same panel as Kaminsky understood the instruction and followed it, the judge also suggested that model criminal jury charges be revised to convey the prohibition even more emphatically.

“To better communicate the importance of obedience to the court’s instructions, it may be appropriate to further explain reasons for the prohibition on juror research and, even, possible punishments for disobedience,” Doyne wrote.

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