Yesterday, we published an article titled 'Lawyers' Use Of Internet To Influence Jurors' raising the concern that the fairness of jury trials may be jeopardized if jurors can surf the Internet and read misleading or self-serving messages by trial counsel that have been deposited where straying jurors can find them.
Even if a prospective juror (not yet selected to sit on a particular case) or a sitting juror does not read about the facts underlying a specific case, he or she can still peruse biographical information about the lawyers, their firm's specialties, featured clients and "war stories," crusades or victories they describe. For example, if a plaintiff law firm's website states that the firm is "dedicated to protecting innocent American consumers from the catastrophic injuries caused by unfeeling, profit-driven drug companies", that is probably not information that a pharmaceutical company defendant in a product liability case would want distributed among its jurors. Judges need to be particularly diligent that juors do not have access to this kind of extraneous information.
Could the courts do more to prevent this kind of Internet abuse? "N.M." wrote me the following after yesterday's article appeared:
Definitely a timely topic – I had to go to Essex Co (NJ Superior Ct) jury selection recently and quite a few potential jurors brought their laptops with them – in fact, wi-fi is offered for those waiting to be sent to court rooms. Very tempting in the midst of voir dire, after the facts of the case have been discussed by the judge, to check the internet during a break to see what information might be available.
Should laptops, iPhones and iPads be permitted in courthouses? If the courts cannot control what jurors do when they go home for the evening should they at least attempt to prevent jurors from going on-line during jury selection or whenever there is a break in the action during trial? Internet use by jurors is an enormous potential problem; there needs to be a concerted effort by our judiciary to address it!