Thursday, April 26, 2012

"CourtBerry Syndrome" and Why Some Jurors Can't Resist Tweeting

Trial judges routinely warn jurors to avoid  using social media and the internet to research or comment on matters before the court during trials.  Nonetheless, news reports of jurors who disregard these instructions seem to be increasingly frequent.

Such juror misconduct has potentially disastrous consequences for the administration of justice.  A December 2011 Arkansas appeal provides a ready illustration - see Death row inmate gets second trial due to Twitter-obsessed juror:
In a tweet referencing the trial, Franco wrote ”Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken…We each define the great line.” He also posted updates when each day of the trial started and complained about the coffee. In addition, Franco posted “It’s over” less than an hour before the jury’s verdict was read in court. According to Associate Justice Donald Corbin, Franco was warned during the trial that posting updates to Twitter was forbidden. Corbin stated ”More troubling is the fact that after being questioned about whether he had tweeted during the trial, Juror 2 continued to tweet during the trial.” The Supreme Court justices of Arkansas recently asked a panel to look into restricting the use of smartphones during future trials.
Villanova law professor, Louis J. Sirico, Jr,. offers a generational analysis at Legal Skills Prof Blog as to why some jurors seem unable to resist tweeting and googling during trials:
In November 2008, the Lord Chief Justice of Great Britain, Sir Igor Judge, sounded a warning about the generational shift occurring as web-savvy citizens accustomed to getting their information online entered the jury box. Noting the consequences of this shift for the system of trial by jury, the Lord Chief Justice observed, “If a generation is going to arrive in the jury box that is totally unused to sitting and listening but is using technology to gain the information it needs to form a judgment, that changes the whole orality tradition with which we are familiar.
If our brains are, indeed being rewired by the internet, as early clinical research seems to suggest, is compulsive juror mistweeting simply the cutting edge of a genuine change in our physiology that is naturally finding its way into our courtrooms?

Is crackberry syndrome mutating into courtberry syndrome?

And how can our courts address this?  

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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