Suggested Jury Instructions to Warn Jurors About Accessing the Internet and Social Media

 The Blog of Legal Times advises that the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management of the United States Judicial Conference has  developed pattern jury  instructions "to address the increasing incidence of juror use of such devices as cellular telephones or computers to conduct research on the Internet or communicate with others about cases,” as explained by  Judge Julie Robinson, committee chair, in a memo to district judges. “Such use has resulted in mistrials, exclusion of jurors, and imposition of fines.”

 “The committee believes that more explicit mention in jury instructions of the various methods and modes of electronic communication and research would help jurors better understand and adhere to the scope of the prohibition against the use of these devices,” explained Robinson.

Here are the instructions:

Before Trial:

You, as jurors, must decide this case based solely on the evidence presented here within the four walls of this courtroom. This means that during the trial you must not conduct any independent research about this case, the matters in the case, and the individuals or corporations involved in the case. In other words, you should not consult dictionaries or reference materials, search the Internet, websites, blogs, or use any other electronic tools to obtain information about this case or to help you decide the case. Please do not try to find out information from any source outside the confines of this courtroom.

Until you retire to deliberate, you may not discuss this case with anyone, even your fellow jurors. After you retire to deliberate, you may begin discussing the case with your fellow jurors, but you cannot discuss the case with anyone else until you have returned a verdict and the case is at an end. I hope that for all of you this case is interesting and noteworthy. I know that many of you use cell phones, Blackberries, the Internet and other tools of technology. You also must not talk to anyone about this case or use these tools to communicate electronically with anyone about the case. This includes your family and friends. You may not communicate with anyone about the case on your cell phone, through e-mail, Blackberry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, through any blog or website, through any Internet chat room, or by way of any other social networking websites, including Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

At the Close of the Case:

During your deliberations, you must not communicate with or provide any information to anyone by any means about this case. You may not use any electronic device or media, such as a telephone, cell phone, smart phone, iPhone, Blackberry or computer; the Internet, any Internet service, or any text or instant messaging service; or any Internet chat room, blog, or website such as Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn, YouTube or Twitter, to communicate to anyone any information about this case or to conduct any research about this case until I accept your verdict.

I  think that these instructions are very well-written and should be used by all state and federal trial judges.  It is natural for jurors to let their curiosity get the best of them and search out information on their own.  They should be advised that such efforts are not consistent with their obligations as jurors.  

Here is an interesting article which explains why jurors turn to the Internet for information.