​#Guilty - when social media and juries collide

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Jury trials have become a lot more difficult in recent years due to the spread of social media.  American courts have witnessed extraordinary situations, such as a death row inmate’s murder conviction being tossed because of a juror’s tweets during trial, and a murder conviction being reversed when two jurors Facebook-friended the victim’s mother during trial.

To stay in control of the situation, the American Bar Association’s ethics committee has now ruled that lawyers can perform “passive reviews” of information that jurors post to social media sites during the course of trials.

American lawyers are allowed to review information that jurors make publicly available on social websites without violating ethical rules, provided they refrain from sending direct communications or attempt to access private data.

Jury selection in particular is one area where information gleaned from social media could be highly relevant, especially when trying to select a person who has not been influenced by conversations and opinions online.
According to an article entitled “The seven deadly social media sins lawyers commit during jury selection,” the seven mistakes are:
  1. Focussing on the wrong information
  2. Conducting juror searches in the courtroom and using too much technology
  3. Confronting potential jurors with information learned about them online
  4. Friending jurors on social media to gain access to their internet information
  5. Not informing judges of the importance of jury instructions on social media use during jury selection
  6. Failing to appreciate actual social interaction in the courtroom
  7. Not having effective jury selection strategy beyond conducting Facebook searches. 
Instead, lawyers should always be respectful to potential jurors during the selection process and have a better understanding of what social media information can be relevant.

Judges can also assist by instructing or preparing instructions for jurors before they arrive for jury duty so they are fully aware about the rules regarding the use of social media in the courtroom.  

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