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What is Jury Misconduct? Let Me Google That!

In an ideal world, jurors in a courtroom would feel they had received all the information during a trial that they need to decide the case. The evidence presented, the attorney's arguments, the judge's instructions would allow them to arrive at a just result.

We, however, do not live in a perfect world. We do, however, live in a "Google" world. With the proliferation of smart phones, and total and instant access to everything on the internet, Courts are increasingly being faced with the prospect of jurors basing elements of their decision on something they just googled.

A jury is supposed to be an impartial finder of the facts of the case. They are to make their decision only on evidence introduced at trial. The purpose of this requirement is to ensure the information is presented with the judicial safeguards that protect a defendant's right to a fair trial.

It also highlights the importance of having an attorney properly prepare your case for trial, as the goal is to explain all the significant elements of your case in such a thorough and complete manner that a jury would have no need to google anything.

The Attribution Problem

The problem occurs when a juror finds some information on the internet. On the internet, determining the validity of the source may be problematical. The source may not be clearly identified and even if it is, the quality of the information may be questionable.

In most matters legal, providing valid citations to legal precedent or other facts is vitally important. It allows both sides a fair chance to argue a point and provide alternative experts or facts.

If one side cites a case as standing for a particular point of law, the other side has a fair opportunity to review the case and point out why it doesn't apply to the present set of facts.

Outside the Jury Room

If a juror finds a definition of a term on the internet, and informs other jurors of its meaning, but they obtained the definition from another state with a different law, it may not be applicable to the case they are deciding.

This would be grounds for a mistrial, and given the expense of trial litigation, a genuine burden for the parties to the trial. It also takes additional court resources, a commodity already in short supply.

Source: Seattle Times, "Modern technology enticing jurors to go beyond courtroom rules," Jane Musgrave, May 18, 2012

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