In the era of the internet, the legal profession is faced with the growing issue of information being at the fingertips of jurors and others involved in the case. Computers, tablets, laptops and smartphones are common place in some courtrooms and can be used by prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, court reporters and jurors. “While technology can be a benefit to the legal system,” Mark Ishman, Internet Lawyer said, adding that “it also can be a hindrance to the interest of justice and to individual privacy.”
It is impossible for the courts to control the flow of information in an effort to insure that justice prevails for the parties involved when the internet becomes a tool to decide the case. The legal system provides safeguards to prevent the miscarriage of justice by providing jury instructions in an effort of fairness. However, “when jurors have access to the internet, it is possible that mistrials may occur because everything on the internet is not reliable” Mark Ishman, Internet Lawyer. The jury decision at trial should be based on the evidence presented and not by what a juror may find by conducting independent internet searches.
A case can also be impacted by access to email and jurors can run the risk of being found guilty of criminal contempt for juror misconduct. In a recent federal Pennsylvania case, a juror requested to be dismissed from jury due to employment-related reasons. Upon the court granting her dismissal, this dismissed juror then sent an email to the remaining jurors that discussed the merits of the pending case as if she had remained on the jury. Then when this email was received by the pending jury, one of jurors responded to this email from the dismissed juror. When the court discovered this inappropriate conduct, it fined the first dismissed juror $1,000 for sending the email to the jury, and dismissed the second juror who responded to the email. United States v. Juror No. One, 866 F. Supp. 2d 442, 453 (E.D. Pa. 2011)
As a reminder, when serving on a jury, the use of your smart phone or other electronic devices cannot only impact the outcome of the case; but it also can have an impact on you in the form of criminal charges and/or fines.
If you need additional information about Internet Law, please contact Internet Law Attorney Mark Ishman at the Ishman Law Firm at (919) 468-3266 or mishman @ ishmanlaw.com.