Why Lawyers Will Now Be Reading the Social Media Posts of Jurors

News / United States

Why Lawyers Will Now Be Reading the Social Media Posts of Jurors

By: Danielle Thillet

If you’ve ever been selected to serve on a jury (an honor most of us spend our adult lives trying to avoid) you know you’re not supposed to discuss the case outside of the court. Not with family, not with coworkers, and especially, not on social media. When it comes to that last one, a lot of people still haven’t gotten the message. Somehow, even after Twitter has become a trusted news source and your boss has added you on Facebook,  some people are still convinced that social media is isolated from public life - like a windowless room you can shout into and no one will ever know. But really, social media is like everyone in the world having their own personal billboard — and when it comes to trials, it’s that big of a problem.

Even in a situation where trial details were not explicitly shared, posting can lead to a huge upset. During a kidnapping and rape case in Little Rock in January, a juror named Brittany Lewis posted on Facebook complaining about being tired and hoping to go home soon. Considering the judge had previously warned the jury that posting on social media was strictly forbidden, Lewis was found in contempt of court. Because her comments indicated that she might not be paying attention to the trial, or might make her final decision based on her desire to leave sooner, the defendant, Quinton Riley Jr. was given a retrial date. 

Not only does the use of social media sometimes give away someone’s personal prejudice, but posting online from the courtroom is distracting, and can often expose the jurors to information or bias that is related to the trial. The American Bar Association has recently come to a very important decision: that it is now ethical for lawyers to read the social media posts of potential jurors during the selection process, as well as jurors in deliberation. The former is to make sure that they aren’t exposing any clear prejudice pertaining to the trial (racist assumptions, or distrust of a profession, for example). The latter is to check that jurors aren’t making posts from in the courtroom, or commenting about the trial or the process in any way. They make a distinction between “passively” viewing pages, which is acceptable, or “actively” viewing pages, which is considered overstepping. Passive would be reading anything that is publicly available in someone’s Twitter feed, Instagram account, etc. Active viewing would be trying to “friend” on Facebook, or subscribing to their YouTube page, or viewing an account from a site that notifies the user — like LinkedIn.

Many courts have considered this a violation of jurors' privacy in the past. But we all need to remember, your social media account isn’t private. (And we’ve tried to remind you, again and again.) It’s important to watch what you say online for your own safety and public appearance. As far as the legal stuff goes, it’s hard enough to find an impartial jury for most cases as it is, especially since most of us don’t want to serve in the first place. If we then allow social media to enter private courtrooms, then the system itself starts to fall apart. It may seem like pretty common sense not to tweet about a trial on which you’re serving as a juror, but as we’ve seen so many times when it comes to social media — common sense is even less common than you’d think.

[Pic via Flickr - zzpza]

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