Oct 6, 2014

New Poster Gets Specific On Juror Research, Social Media Use

The National Center for State Courts has released a new poster, "Juror Responsibilities Regarding the Internet and Social Media," that is intended for jury rooms to remind jurors that they should not from research or use social media to discuss cases. But the poster's limited explanation of the reasons behind the restrictions is problematic.

NCSC posterThe new poster is similar to posters previously created by the Washington state courts, which was adapted for use in California and Minnesota.

Unlike the Washington and California versions, which only admonish jurors without explaining a rationale for the restrictions, the new poster says that jurors' restraint from going online to research or communicate, "help[s] ensure that all parties receive a fair trial."

But the NCSC poster does not go as far as explaining the reasons for the restrictions as the Minnesota version, which explicitly states, "These rules are important. If these rules are not followed, the whole trial may need to be redone and we would have to start the trial over from the beginning."

I have long advocated that courts and judges not only tell jurors not to go online during trials, but also explain why they should not do so. Others have reached the same conclusion (here and here). Yet my 2011 study of model and pattern jury instructions found that only federal circuit and 10 states included such a rationale in their criminal instructions, while one circuit and seven states had jury instructions for civil trials that included such a statement.

The new poster is a good step, but its explanation of the reasons for the restrictions is not as descriptive as it could be. To be effective, such posters -- and the instructions to the jury throughout the trial -- must include more than a list of "thou shall not"s: they should also explain the specific reasons behind the restrictions.


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