Juror Research on Google Results in New Trial

A post from the Mass Tort Defense blog highlights a real problem:  jurors conducting independent research during trials.  Indeed, in the case featured in the post, the juror conducted the research before the trial (after he received his summons to serve as a juror) but shared what he knew during deliberations.  The result?  A reversal of a defense verdict.

The blog post does a nice job summarizing Russo v. Takata Corp., 2009 WL 2963065 (S.D. 9/16/09).  You can read the entire opinion here.

Here is an excerpt from Sean Wajert’s summary:

The state Supreme Court noted it was announcing no hard and fast rule that all such types of Internet research by a juror prior to trial without notice to the court and counsel automatically doom a jury’s verdict. Rather, the court gave deference to the trial court, which had the distinct advantage of being present throughout the nineteen-day trial. The trial court was in the best position to determine whether material was extrinsic to the issues before the jury, or whether the extraneous material prejudiced the jury. The trial court’s award of a new trial was affirmed.

The reasoning: statutory language in many jurisdictions limits the type of information that a juror may be asked to provide via an affidavit or under oath at a hearing on a motion for new trial. And that’s the only way, typically, for a litigant to show juror conduct. The prohibition on admitting testimony and affidavits pertains to intrinsic information, which includes statements or discussions which took place during deliberations. Testimony and affidavits concerning extrinsic information, however, may be obtained from a juror. Extrinsic information includes media publicity, conversations between jurors and non-jurors, and evidence not admitted by the court. It also includes “knowledge relevant to the facts in issue not obtained through the introduction of evidence but acquired prior to trial, experiments, investigations, news media, etc.” Secondly, the type of after-acquired information that potentially taints a jury verdict should be carefully distinguished from the general knowledge, opinions, feelings and bias that every juror carries into the jury room.

This opinion reminds us of the need to urge the trial judge to repeatedly remind the jurors that they should not do independent research. 

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