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‘Social media’ instructions updated for federal juries

Model jury instructions for federal courts have been beefed up in an effort to deter jurors’ use of social media during trial, according to the U.S. Judicial Conference.

The new guidelines spell out in more detail the consequences for jurors when the court discovers a juror has used cell phones, smartphones or other devices to access Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube or other tech sources to research or communicate about aspects of a case.

Jurors also are encouraged to report to the court if they observe other jurors violating the court’s instructions, as research indicates that’s how infractions most often come to the court’s attention.

A Judicial Conference committee revised the model jury instructions in response to a national survey of federal trial judges, including Virginia federal court judges, about their experiences with social media use by jurors.

Overwhelmingly, judges already caution jurors against use of social media during trial, according to the survey. But the revised instructions call for repeated reminders, explanation that the ban is to promote a fair trial, and warnings about the consequences of violating the rules, for the justice system and for the individual juror.
–Deborah Elkins

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