Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria (Juror Facebooking)?

I was invited to speak at the University of Baltimore's Lunch Time Law Series on February 22, 2010 to discuss entertainment and social media law. The Lunch Time Law Series is a great program that invites members of the legal community to discuss current trends in the law.

During the program, the State v. Dixon case was brought up. I previously blogged about this case on December 30,2009, and on January 15, 2010. In this case, five jurors communicated with each other outside of the courtroom via Facebook. The defense team found out about this after a verdict had been entered but before sentencing. Whether this activity constituted juror misconduct enough to warrant Dixon a new trial was never decided because a settlement was reached. Therefore, the Maryland legal community is still trying to figure out how best to avoid this problem in the future.

In my opinion, the temptation to access the Internet and social media sites is too great. Over the past several years, more and more people are ditching their landlines for smartphones, which allow quick and easy access to the Internet. Therefore, the courts have to put rules in place to safeguard the integrity of the jury system.

There are several different ways to do this. The first is to sequester all jurors, which frankly is impractical for many reasons, including, cost, and inconvenience.

The second possible solution would be to require prospective jurors to list all of their social media accounts on the juror questionnaire, including for example, Twitter name and password, and Facebook userid and password. This would enable court staff and the legal parties to not only screen for juror bias, but also to ensure that the impaneled jurors are not discussing the case in violation of court admonishments. In my opinion, this would intrude on a prospective juror’s right to privacy. The U.S. Constitution does not expressly protect one’s right to privacy. However, I believe it is inherent and forcing people to turn over this information may make people more inclined than they already are to try to avoid jury duty.

A third option, and the one that I believe is most viable is to require jurors sign a form stating that they agree not to discuss their case in any medium, including social media while they are impaneled. The form would include possible legal penalties if they disobey the directive.

On September 10, 2009, I blogged about how the San Francisco Court System is handling this issue.The U.S. Federal Courts recently weighed in on this problem and their response was to put forth a new model set of jury instructions: http://www.uscourts.gov/newsroom/2010/DIR10-018.pdf

Suggested jury instructions and admonishments for disobeying the rules are not enough. Real consequences are needed to take away the temptation to surf, post, blog, podcast, etc...There are no easy answers to "solving a problem like Maria (Juror Facebook)." However, a 21st century solution that addresses these issues and anticipates future challenges is needed. To learn more about these issues you may contact me at www.shearlaw.com

Copyright 2010 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.