Would it have made any difference at Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon’s trial?
Any difference, that is, if the court had had the benefit of proposed model jury instructions just out for federal judges that explicitly tell jurors to stay off their Blackberries, iPhones, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. When the judge tells jurors not to talk to anyone about the case until deliberations, she means anyone, in the next seat or in cyberspace.
New model jury instructions are necessary, says a court administration committee of the Judicial Conference of the U.S., because of an increase in reports of jurors using cell phones and computers to conduct their own internet research or communicate with others about cases. Jurors’ digital dalliances have led to mistrials, exclusion of jurors and imposition of fines, according to the committee.
In December, lawyers for Mayor Dixon asked for a new trial in part because a group of five “Facebook Friends” on the jury were communicating among themselves on Facebook during the deliberations on embezzlement charges. At least one of them received an outsider’s online opinion of what the verdict should be, according to a local report.
The two proposed jury instructions cover the time period before the trial and at the close of the case.
The law presumes jurors follow a judge’s instructions, but some jurors still may find it tough to resist the siren song of technology.
By Deborah Elkins