Chaos in the American Legal System: MySpace, Twitter Taint Juries
You may have missed this. But the social online networks such a Twitter, MySpace and Facebook are wreaking havoc with judges and attorney's because jury members are using their phones to leak and receive information while deliberating on a legal judgement. The jurors connect to the internet, get on Twitter, MySpace etc., obtain biased accounts on the case tainting the objectiveness of the 12 jurors.
Jurors doing research on their iPhones and live-reporting their trials on Twitter. In Florida, in a major drug related case, one juror admitted to accessing his phone and researching the case heavily followed and written about in the local media. When the judge questioned the other jurors, despite the judge's instructions, he found that another eight jurors had done the same thing! The end result after a grueling eight week trial was a mistrial. Worse, the defense attorney afterwards said that he was on the verge of winning!
In another big federal trial on corruption, this time in Pennsylvania, the judge declared a mistrial when he found out that a juror used Twitter to make ongoing updates about the trial and that a major announcement was forthcoming on Facebook.
The problem that has shocked the US legal system is that jurors are not supposed to seek information outside of the courtroom. They are required to reach a verdict based only on the facts that the judge has decided are admissible, and they are not supposed to see evidence that has been excluded as prejudicial. By using their cell phones, the juror violates this sacred cornerstone and obtains a vareity of information simply by entering the defendant's name into Google. Thus, tainting the juror with outside of the case information which may be spinned and biased. They can contact the new media with leaks about the case, the way the jury is leaning etc.
Some have suggested that Federal and State Courts should simply take all cellphones from those entering the court room. However, the jurors may still go home after court that day and Twitter away! Jurors are angered when a judge tells them to focus only on the admissible evidence in the case because many times the defense or prosecution withholds such key evidence. If the 12 jurors cannot agree on a verdict, the judge will instruct them that they must. This is viewed as not respecting the jurors who are the ultimate judge in the case. They feel that the judge is now interferring with their final decision. Many jurors are simply common everyday workers, blue and white color, they all enter deliberation with their own personal biases, prejudices etc. When a judge begins to "act like God" towards them, they are pissed off. That is where a judge needs to be careful in their own attitude towards common folk, after all, the jurors on a case are in most cases losing a lot of money from taking off from their work, while the judge is still receiving his $120,000 per year salary. The Attorney's, likewise, have the same problem with thier clients. Charging them $100 for a 10-15 min. consultation phone call is robbery.
The only way to prevent modern technology from disturbing the legal system is to sequester the jury-total cutoff from the outside until a decision is made. However, this is not practicable. It is impossible, for across the US everyday, thousands of trials occur with 12 jurors, all with cell phones, many want to be the one to "break the story" for ego purposes using Twitter, Google, Facebook or MySpace. Sequestering a jury is very expensive even in good times, thus, the American and perhaps other legal systems are now facing a major issue about how to keep the jury only focused on the admissible evidence of the case. There seems no good solution. Threatening jury members with jail time may persuade some, but not those who are defiant or needing a thrill or to feel important. The, if the juror is sent to jail, how do you know the replacement will be any better? You don't.
Such is the jury system in the USA.