Courts Learning That Jurors Can Blog (Next They'll Find Out Jurors Can Email, Too)

from the really,-they-can... dept

While blogging lawyers has become quite common (and there is even the occasional blogging judge), it seems that lawyers and courts are just starting to grapple with the fact that jurors are blogging as well — and they’re not quite sure how to deal with it. The article focuses on a situation where a juror wrote in his blog not just about the jury selection process, but his surprise at being selected, given his beliefs on certain subjects, such as the police and God. He also stated (before the process began) that he was about to go “listen to the local riff-raff try and convince me of their innocence.” Since the jury he was on found the defendant guilty, the defense lawyer has been asking for a retrial, claiming that the blog statements showed clear bias — though, you would think the lawyer was supposed to have outed that bias during the selection process. Later in the article, it notes that judges and lawyers are going to need to start asking potential jurors about their blogging habits during the selection process. That seems to be going a little far. The court usually instructs jurors that they are not to discuss the case with anyone until it’s over — and a blog post about the specifics of the case (rather than just “hey, I’ve got jury duty”) certainly seems to violate those rules — and should be plenty of notice without having to carefully note down any particular website where any juror might post a comment. The problem in the specific case wasn’t that the defense lawyer (or judge or prosecution, for that matter) didn’t ask the guy if he blogged — but they didn’t ask other questions to determine if he was biased in how he might view the case.

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Comments on “Courts Learning That Jurors Can Blog (Next They'll Find Out Jurors Can Email, Too)”

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Michael says:

What if you don't read the comments?

When a judge tells you as a juror that you’re not supposed to discuss the case with anyone else while it’s going on, I always thought that was to prevent someone else from influencing you. You’re supposed to decide the case based only on the evidence presented in court, so they try to limit outside information. But if you don’t read the comments on your blog, would it be wrong to post your own thoughts about the trial while it’s going on? Would a prohibition on that be intended to remove temptation for 2-way communication? I suppose you could write the posts while the trial is going on and post them afterwards, so you’re not too much inconvenienced.

Juries are treated as a black box in the courtroom — lawyers can only guess what they’re thinking during the trial based on facial expressions and body language. Jurors can’t ask questions during the trial, lawyers have no way of knowing whether a jury understood key points, and maintaining that opacity creates some minor efficiency at the expense of reasoned verdicts. In the criminal justice system, it leads to judgments of guilt or innocence based on first impressions of the defendant rather than based on the facts and the law. We then compare the judgments to our own first impressions and decide that the jury system is working well overall, because so many people share first impressions. That’s not justice.

Jury deliberations are closed in part to shield the public from the ugliness of how many jurors decide cases. (I was on a Massachusetts jury a few years ago where many of the all-white college-educated jurors said during deliberations that they wanted to convict the defendant because of his race, and said they wished they could lock up his family and friends as well.) If having more jurors blog about the process would provide more insight into how jury decisions are made, I think it should be encouraged rather than discouraged.

A non-slave IT guy says:

Re: Jurors are human... ugh

Re: #6; “Jury deliberations are closed in part to shield the public from the ugliness of how many jurors decide cases.”

Hmmm, since jurors are selected from the public, it *should* not be a huge revelation to anyone that juries are comprised of people who are ‘ugly’ in the exercise of the responsibilities as a juror/citizen. After all, They are Us.

But, for it to not be a revelation would require people to *not* assert the usual intellectual artifice of separation between Me/Us and Them.

How many times have you been among friends and coworkers comiserating about some ‘asshole driver’ or ‘idiot Internetizen’ or ‘incompetent [service provider]’ with all present nodding in vigorous agreement? The vast majority of people are incapable of the realization that they themselves are probably, and at least of the people present are certainly, one of the examples of the guilty types. But, we don’t see ourselves (or people we like and or respect) reflected in such a mirror. It’s too emotionally and or intellectual disruptive. For most people.

We’ve all seen TV portrayals of the sordid happenings in the jury room. But I suspect that most people, invested in somehow managing to maintain their grasp on positive, pleasant and optimistic ideas about people (in general and in spite of the evidence of the average American), discount the bigotry, hate, stupidity and lack of critical thinking skills as a mere fabrication for the sake of dramatization. The frightening reality is that truth is often scarier than TV drama.

If there were anyway to do so, I would vigorous and directly support the creation of a cadre of qualified thinkers who would have the job of dispensing justice. I do NOT trust my fellow man. He’s only concerned with his or her own inconsequential and pathetic little life, which is at the center of, if not the only thing within, his little personal Universe. And with getting back home to his beer, TV and pr0n as soon as he can get the Hell out of there.

Benson says:

Justice or corruption ?

…if you control the process {any process}, you control the outcome of that process.

Judges & lawyers now control the court/trial process almost completely — they totally control juror selection, but still seek final control of the individual jurors themselves … in & out of the court room… because lawyers want to dictate the outcomes of jury trials.

Jurors have fundamental rights to free-speech & communication, just like other citizens; judges may not constitutionally/legally restrict those rights… although judges do it routinely and get away with it.

Constitutional selection of “unbiased” jurors merely means that jurors should have no basic relationship with the parties to the case/trial…. for example, the defendant or prosecuting attorney can’t be a juror’s brother-in-law, or a juror a business employee/co-worker of the plaintiff, etc. It does NOT mean that jurors should be ignorant dunces, kept away from even slight knowledge of the specific legal case.

Detailed knowledge of legal case from newspapers, gossip, etc. — does not constitute juror ‘bias’, nor illegal juror ‘influence’.
Originally in America, juror knowledge of legal case/trial was considered the sign of intelligent & well-informed citizen jurors.

But lawyers & lawyer-judges do not like intelligent, well-informed jurors — they are difficult to manipulate & control.

Hence, the ever-increasing efforts to ‘control’ jurors.

Anonymous Coward says:

>>The problem in the specific case wasn’t that the defense
>>lawyer (or judge or prosecution, for that matter) didn’t
>>ask the guy if he blogged — but they didn’t ask other
>>questions to determine if he was biased in how he might
>>view the case.

Wait a minute, let’s be clear. This is not an achievable goal. Regardless of the skill with which the questions are structured and asked, there is always going to be hidden bias, due to the nuances of language and even a desire on the part of the juror to hide potential bias.

Nobody Special says:

more information

I think it would be entirely fair to ask people about web sites they may blog at. Then the lawyers can take a look into the public persona of the jurors. And if a potential juror clearly has some bias, that can be addressed.

As post number 7 indicates, it isn’t always possible to find bias through the questions. In fact, it could be that the particular juror worked hard to hide his(her) belief that all people charged are guilty. In fact, many such people will work hard at the moment for their chance to punish people who otherwise may have “gotten off with a technicality.”

|333173|3|_||3 says:

re: 8

you cannot trust people well enough to do that. Even if the person running the group is a good mna, and all his immediate subordinates are good and intelligent men, how can they be sure that htere is not someone who is biased or incompetent. Furthermore, who appoints members? Whoever does has control of the justice system, which could eventually lead to show trials and so forth. This is not just scaremongering, since whoever chooses the jurors can make sure that they all have the “correct” view of the matter, making the “correct” outcome very likely.

What would work would be to record all discussion, so that once all retrials, appeals and so fourth are concluded, the recoding would be available for public inspection. This would help prevent obviosly flawed decisons, since the jurors would know that hte reason for the decision would be publicly known.

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