By now, most litigators have heard trial court judges admonishing jurors not to post their views about a case on Facebook during deliberations. But if a trial judge needs a new script to admonish jurors, the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) has one.
On Aug. 21, the CACM approved model jury instructions regarding the use of electronic technology to conduct research on or communicate about a case. Among the social media do's and don'ts for jurors: "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." The instructions are in response to a national survey of federal trial judges by the Federal Judicial Center at the request of the CACM committee.
"The overwhelming majority of judges take steps to warn jurors not to use social media during trial, but the judges surveyed said additional steps should be taken," U.S. District Judge Julie A. Robinson of Kansas, the CACM committee chair, says in a written statement. "The judges recommended that jurors frequently be reminded about the prohibition on social media before the trial, at the close of a case, at the end of each day before jurors return home, and other times, as appropriate. Jurors should be told why refraining from use of social media promotes a fair trial."
Sidney Fitzwater, chief judge of the Northern District of Texas, says he has been admonishing juries about the use of social media for years, both when they are seated and when he gives them final instructions. Fitzwater says he'll look at the new model instructions, but he has yet to have a problem with jurors using social media in his courtroom. “The ones I have in place already are working," he says. "I’ll stay with those, but I will certainly consider other sources as well."
-- John Council