Lawyers Use Juror's Twitter Messages As Basis For Appeal

from the reaching dept

Lawyers for an Arkansas building materials firm have appealed a $12.6 million judgment against the company, alleging that a juror's Twitter messages show that he was biased against the company. The lawyers say tweets like "I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else's money" and "oh and nobody buy Stoam. Its bad mojo and they'll probably cease to Exist, now that their wallet is 12m lighter" illustrate that the juror was predisposed towards a verdict that would "impress his audience". Meanwhile, in a corruption case in Philadelphia, a defandant's attorneys allege a juror's tweets and status updates broke rules about disclosing deliberations, and say they could warrant a mistrial. Lawyers, along with everybody else, are paying more and more attention to social-media updates, so it's likely we've not heard the last of the silly Twitter-based legal maneuver. But it's not just the information-spreading that's got lawyers and judges worried, it's also juries looking up info on their phones during trials. In a recent federal drug trial in Florida, a judge declared a mistrial after learning that 8 jurors had accessed online information on their mobile phones during a trial. A cornerstone of the US' adversarial legal system is that juries can only consider the evidence that's presented to them, and jurors looking info up on their own breaks the longstanding rules of evidence of the system. It's not as if the legal system is under threat from technology, but certainly expect to see plenty more stories along these lines in the near future.


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    Jerry in Detroit, Mar 18th, 2009 @ 3:10am

    Trial Practice

    It will make interesting debate. Trial lawyers today seem to emphasize the selection of essentially ignorant juries. In some regards, this practice is an abuse of our legal system. Both defense & prosecution are seeking an easily swayed jury. However, in past times, this was not the case. The community was too small to find a jury with no knowledge of the case; much less someone who was unaffected by the event. My opinion about the entry of the Internet into jury deliberations is that it may be that citizens are reclaiming their legal system rather than leaving the process to judges & lawyers who often have their own agenda. The effect will be mixed; neither totally good nor bad. Of course, it will be for the appeals process to sort out the mess.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2009 @ 4:35am

    You want to get kicked out of the jury pool? Tell them you went to college, read the newspaper every day, watch both cable and local news, and keep abreast of current news events via the internet and mobile technology. Lawyers want ignorant jurors who are willing to buy whatever they're selling, not intelligent individuals who can reason for themselves.

    I was part of the jury pool for a local murder trial a few years ago, and one of the first to be struck. The defense attorney asked me if I'd seen any news coverage of the case. Considering it was the most high-profile murder trial in the local area in decades it was a pretty stupid question. Pretty much as soon as I said the word 'internet' the attorney had me stricken from the jury pool. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. The jury was sequestered for about eight weeks during the trial.

     

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    Dave, Mar 18th, 2009 @ 5:59am

    It seems a simple solution, have all jurors hand over all electronic devices during the trial. It's not like they're going to need to make a phone call while the trial is going on.

     

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      Nate, Mar 18th, 2009 @ 6:29am

      Re:

      Well, they could be on-call and need to have something electronic.. but a pager would probably do.

       

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      BTR1701, Mar 18th, 2009 @ 7:45am

      Re: Solution

      > It seems a simple solution, have all jurors
      > hand over all electronic devices during
      > the trial. It's not like they're going to
      > need to make a phone call while the trial
      > is going on.

      Not really a solution at all. The vast majority of juries are not sequestered, which means they go home at the end of the day and come back in the morning for trials that can last weeks. No way people are going to hand over their phones for weeks to the court and not have any way to communicate with other people on their off time. People would just leave their phones at home and have nothing to hand over when the judge demands it.

      Besides, it's not like giving over your phone won't keep you from using your home computer to look stuff up on the internet when you're not in court.

       

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      Willton, Mar 18th, 2009 @ 3:52pm

      Re:

      It seems a simple solution, have all jurors hand over all electronic devices during the trial. It's not like they're going to need to make a phone call while the trial is going on.

      That does not solve the problem of jurors using such items during a recess.

       

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    Felix Pleșoianu, Mar 18th, 2009 @ 7:37am

    And here goes one more victim of rapidly changing times: the judicial system. Is it clear yet that nothing can escape change these days? Not to mention we're talking a system founded, what, two centuries ago? It's a wonder it lasted this long.

     

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    TheStuipdOne, Mar 18th, 2009 @ 11:36am

    In my humble opinion

    It is downright wrong to sequester juries, and to prevent them from knowing anything more than what the laywers present. All too often lawyers are corrupt, self-serving people who will try to trick and decieve a jury. The judge is supposed to prevent that and ensure a fair trial.

    Besides who gave the government the right to make laws? The people
    Who is supposed to be served by the laws? The people
    Who should have the right to change laws? The people
    Who will jurors gain additional information from, if anybody? The people.

    Government, laws, and punishments are supposed to act as an expression of the will of the people. Therefore if 90% of people think that the defendant is not guilty, or the crime that was supposedly comitted shouldn't be a crime, then the defendant should go free (and vise versa).

     

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    Rose M. Welch, Mar 18th, 2009 @ 1:52pm

    In a recent federal drug trial in Florida, a judge declared a mistrial after learning that 8 jurors had accessed online information on their mobile phones during a trial. A cornerstone of the US' adversarial legal system is that juries can only consider the evidence that's presented to them, and jurors looking info up on their own breaks the longstanding rules of evidence of the system.

    Yes, this is true and it sucks. In some countries, juries can ask questions and actively ask for evidence, etc. So if they want additional tests done or if they want to know more info in a certain area, they just have to ask. That seems so much more just to me... What are American courts trying to hide?

     

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    Michael Talpas (profile), Mar 18th, 2009 @ 2:23pm

    Damn the man!

    Unfortunately, it is a truism that 'The system has flaws'. Equally unfortunately, the very things that are flawed keep worse or unexpected flaws from coming into the system. This is true of the judicial system and it is true everywhere else.

    Lawyers are corrupt, it is true. Life is unfair. If we didn't have certain protections in place (which, at the same time that they protect, they allow this corruption) then the system would be as deadly as any third-world legal system. This is not to say it can't be changed, but some people tend to take a very defeatist attitude. "This is bad, so we should scrap the whole thing." "This is wrong, and so the whole system doesn't work." Sure, it can and probably should be changed. If you think of a way, call your congressman and lets get to work on getting it implemented. But throwing up your hands and saying, "Screw this, I'm taking my ball and going home," doesn't help anything.

    As to what American courts are trying to hide: Public opinion, which is not supposed to have any place in the court. Juries 'can' ask for evidence, during deliberations. Did you think they just lock them in a room and throw away the key, expecting them to use their memories to recall all hundred or so hours of the case? No! That is why they make detailed recordings of everything, and carefully label things, so the jury can bring things into the room. Juries don't ask questions of witnesses because that is the prosecutor and defender's job. And, if a juror asks a stupid question, they won't feel slighted when they get a stupid answer (as does happen with prosecutors and defenders). Jurors are supposed to be calm, outside observers, seeing what is going on and making a determination upon it. If the defense doesn't give a good case, or the prosecution doesn't, that is for the judge to decide (by declaring a mistrial, by striking evidence, by giving instruction to the jury and by assigning a new attorney if the current ones prove incompetent).

    As to whether or not it is more just, just is not a seeming, or a feeling. Justice is truth, pure and simple. And now I will get off my soapbox and go play.

     

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    Gene Cavanaugh, Mar 19th, 2009 @ 9:23pm

    Twitering as a threat

    So - if I ever give up IP, and go back to civil or criminal law, the first thing I should do is arrange for info jurors can find that ensure I win my case? Interesting - those folks certainly don't seem very smart, it should be easy to get them to see things my client's way!
    Problem - I hate civil and criminal law (good at both, just don't like them).
    Oh, well, another opportunity lost.

     

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