Jurors tweeting?

Our laws have not kept up with technology. Social media like Twitter (with users posting “tweets” for others to read) and Facebook are having a big impact on life, and the impact on the legal system is yet to be determined. The one thing I’ve observed related to the legal system and social media is that lawyers usually overreact about these things.

Take the recent situation with a juror tweeting. Attorney Anne Reed at Deliberations has an excellent summary of the situation.

Here’s what happened… A juror named Johnathan used twitter before and after a trial. He didn’t tweet during the trial, just before and after. The jury he was on awarded $12.6 million to the plaintiffs in the trial, but the corporation on the hook for the $12.6 million says they should get a new trial because of the tweets.

What did he tweet?

  • “Well, I finally got called for jury duty. It is kinda exciting”
  • “trying to learn about Jury duty for tomorrow, but all searches lead me to Suggestions for getting out if it, instead of rocking it”
  • “I guess Im early. Two Angry Men just wont do”
  • “Im the only one who brought toys: my laptop and a book”
  • “I got selected!”
  • “And the verdict is … Penguin Eds can not make fries”
  • “So Jonathan, what did you do today? Oh nothing really, I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else’s money”
  • “oh and nobody buy [stock in] Stoam [the defendant]. Its bad mojo and they’ll probably cease to Exist, now that their wallet is 12m lighter. http://www.stoam.com

Now remember that none of these occurred during the trial. He made innocent comments about jury duty before he started his trial, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. The tweets about the verdict and the company were done after the trial was over. Again, no harm. Jurors aren’t prohibited from talking about a trial after it’s over, and “talking” via Twitter should be no different.

Anne offers the most common sense approach to the use of social media by jurors: “If the juror had done the same thing off line, what would we do?”

It’s a simple solution, and it works. Here are her examples of how this wold work:

  • A juror asks her friends on Facebook what her verdict should be.  If she’d just asked a bunch of friends on her lunch hour, we’d — dismiss her, right, if we were lucky enough to catch it before the verdict?  So that’s what should happen here (and did).  This rule really works!  Try it again:
  • A juror looks at the scene of the accident on Google Maps Street View.  If he’d gone there himself, would it be okay?  Of course not.  So it’s not okay on his iPhone.
  • A juror sitting in the waiting room, not yet picked for a trial, tweets a series of bitter complaints about how stupid jury duty is.  If he’d gone to the pay phone and given the same rant to his girlfriend, would we do anything?  Not if we wanted any jurors left.  So we don’t do anything about this guy.
  • A juror, after a high-profile trial is over, publishes a blog with detailed descriptions of the trial and what the jury said about the evidence.  What if she’d written a book?  She’d be happily collecting her royalties.  So unless her blog itself describes something that was illegal about the deliberations, it’s fine.

Frankly, I like Johnathan’s tweets. It’s nice to see someone as interested in jury duty as I was. Let’s not make something out of nothing, and let’s not make this issue difficult. There is a common sense approach that can work every time.

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