Impartiality of Juries Threatened by Web?
"Donald Findlay QC, one of Scotland's top criminal lawyers, has warned that the impartiality of the jury system is at risk due to jurors using internet search engines and has warned that the Government cannot continue with its 'ostrich-like' attitude to the problem (...) "I find the whole topic fascinating.
"Judges and sheriffs routinely warn jurors that they must not discuss evidence outside the courtroom and that they must only reach their verdict based on admissible facts. But Mr Findlay says judges are failing to warn jurors not to use their mobile phones, or computers at home overnight, to look up the name of an accused, or examine the scene of the crime using Google Earth."
In fact, I recently proposed a panel discussion at next year's annual conference of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL) in Windsor on the impact of social networking media and Google on jury trials. My panel idea has just been accepted by the organizing committee.
There have been a number of incidents in the United States where lawyers have asked the presiding judge at a trial to disqualify a juror for misconduct or to declare a mistrial because of what jurors have posted on their personal blogs, Twitter accounts or Facebook pages.
There have also been concerns about jurors doing online research, "visiting" a crime scene on Google Earth or following Twitter or blog feeds written by reporters or others during a trial. Another concern: tipping off witnesses to proceedings in the courtroom before they testify.
In this country, we have not faced the same problems as those that have occurred south of the border. But are Canadian judges anticipating such problems? How does a judge handle all of this?
For the panel, I am trying to get a judge, a jury expert and a reporter who has liveblogged a jury trial.
More background on the topic:
- Here is a Lawyers Weekly article from June 12, 2009: Twitter in the courtroom: a fad, or here to stay?
- Here is an article from the August 2009 issue of TRIAL, the journal of the American Association for Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America): Texts and “tweets” by jurors, lawyers pose courtroom conundrums
- This is an article from the Providence Journal (Rhode Island): New juror policy accounts for new technology
- A recent article in Jury News from the Center for Jury Studies, National Center for State Courts (US): Google Mistrials, Twittering Jurors, Juror Blogs, and Other Technological Hazards