A Michigan court dismissed a juror who during the trial posted on Facebook, "gonna be fun to tell defendant they’re guilty." A New Jersey Appellate Court holds it is alright to google jurors’ names during jury selection. Carino v. Muenzen, App. Div. August 30, 2010. The upshot is that the internet is moving into the jury box.
In Carino, the plaintiff’s attorney used the court’s wi-fi to access the internet on his laptop. The court, ever hip, asked if he was googling the potential jurors. The trial court told him to put away the computer because he gave no notice he intended to google the jurors. The Appellate Court held it was an error, albeit a harmless one, to block the attorney from googling in the courtroom. The court noted that the trial court administrator had issued a press release announcing the wi-fi in the "Morris County Courthouse to maximize productivity for attorneys and other court users."
In an Arkansas court, a juror verdict was ultimately tossed out when it was discovered a juror tweeted during the trial that he hadn’t done much other than give away "TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else’s money!"
Clearly, jurors, attorneys and courts are having to deal with social media and internet access in the courtroom. Courts will have to be more specific in their instructions to jurors on what "not discussing the case" means. While the Appellate Court upheld the right of the googling attorney to do so in court, it is not the best tactic. Most courts publish the array of jurors who may be available for trials in advance. See J. Klock, New Jersey Trial Practice, § 7.29 Volume 2E (West 2010) (can request general panel of jurors ten days before trial). It would be best to check on the jurors outside the court, as it is important to also look at the jurors and read their reactions to the voir dire.
John H. Klock is a Director in the Gibbons Real Property & Environmental Department.