Judges Tell Juries Not to Blab on Social Media

Anyone who has served on a jury can probably remember the judge’s multiple, repeated warnings not to talk about the trial before a verdict is rendered and accepted by the court -- with anyone (even each other), via any means, at all, ever, period. But apparently in the age of social media these injunctions aren’t enough for some jury members, who are left wondering, “If I post something on Facebook about the case, does that count?”

“Yes, you idiots,” is the basic gist of the response from the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, which has issued new, extra-redundant guidelines letting jurors know that they shouldn’t talk about cases on social media -- even though those two constituent terms, “social” and “media,” really ought to be a dead giveaway.

The committee has offered up some potential language for judges to use in instructing jurors before the case has begun and before deliberations. These instructions preclude social media both as a potential source for information and platform for blabbing about the case.

On the first count, jurors are exhorted not to “search the internet, websites, blogs, or use any other electronic tools to obtain information about this case or to help you decide the case.”

On the second count, the committee provided judges with this suggested language: “I know that many of you use cell phones, Blackberries, the internet and other tools of technology. You also must not talk to anyone at any time about this case or use these tools to communicate electronically with anyone about the case. This includes your family and friends. You may not communicate with anyone about the case on your cell phone, through e-mail, Blackberry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, through any blog or website, including Facebook, Google+, My Space, LinkedIn, or YouTube. You may not use any similar technology of social media, even if I have not specifically mentioned it here. I expect you will inform me as soon as you become aware of another juror’s violation of these instructions.”

In typically thorough fashion, judges are advised to circle around again at the end of the case, in their pre-deliberation instructions: “During your deliberations, you must not communicate with or provide any information to anyone by any means about this case. You may not use any electronic device or media, such as the telephone, a cell phone, smart phone, iPhone, Blackberry or computer, the Internet, any Internet service, any text or instant messaging service, any Internet chat room, blog, or website such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube or Twitter, to communicate to anyone any information about this case or to conduct any research about this case until I accept your verdict. In other words, you cannot talk to anyone on the phone, correspond with anyone, or electronically communicate with anyone about this case. You can only discuss the case in the jury room with your fellow jurors during deliberations. I expect you will inform me as soon as you become aware of another juror’s violation of these instructions.”

(Raises hand) “So wait, can I talk about the case on Pinterest?”

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