Jurors heeding judges’ requests not to use social media

July 31, 2014
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Nearly 500 federal judges responded to a request by the Federal Judicial Center to report on how frequently jurors used social media to communicate during trials and deliberations over the past two years. The judges’ response: not that often.

 Of the 494 District Court judges who responded to the survey, only 33 reported instances of detected social media use by jurors during trial or deliberations. And of those who reported social media use, 97 percent said it was used by a juror in only one or two cases. Facebook topped the list cited by judges; one judge reported a juror attempted to “friend” a participant in the case.

And the survey also reveals that it’s usually not the judge who’s catching the social media violation; it’s another juror, an attorney or court staff typically reporting the use of social media.

The number of jurors who used social media recently isn’t that far off from the number reported in 2011. There were only 30 reported uses of social media that year, in which 508 judges responded to the survey.

The reason for the small number of occurrences could be attributed to the steps the judges have taken to explain to jurors why they are not to use social media in the courtroom. Nearly 75 percent have explained in plain language the reason behind the social media ban and nearly 70 percent instructed jurors at multiple points throughout the trial. Two percent of the judges said they required jurors to sign a statement of compliance or written pledge agreeing to refrain from using social media while serving on the jury.

A very small percentage – 4 percent – reported they have not specifically addressed jurors’ use of social media.

This year’s survey also asked about social media use by attorneys during voir dire. The majority responded they did not know the number of trials – if any – in which attorneys have used social media. Only 25 judges indicated they knew attorneys had used social media in at least one of their trials. Based on those judges’ responses, it appears attorneys are using Facebook, Google and LinkedIn profiles the most to check up on prospective jurors.

Another interesting find from the survey: 25 percent of the judges who responded to a question on allowing attorneys to use social media during voir dire said they forbid it. About five percent of judges specifically permit it, with the majority saying they don’t address the issue with attorneys before voir dire.

The American Bar Association issued a formal opinion in April recommending attorneys do not message a juror or try to gain access to a juror’s private account before or during a court proceeding.
The complete report is available on the Federal Judicial Center’s website.
 

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