I read an interesting article in The Oregonian on Sunday discussing the growing phenomenon of jurors turning to the Internet for information while the jury is still deliberating.
The article was precipitated by an Oregon DWI criminal case involving reality TV star Matt Roloff (who I have never heard of and cannot muster up the energy to Google). The jury had been deliberating for more than four hours over two days when the jury foreman told the judge one juror had done research on the definitions of “implied consent” and “beyond a reasonable doubt” and another had researched the accuracy of field sobriety tests. Interestingly, the parties avoided a mistrial by allowing the judge to reach a verdict. The judge found that Mr. Roloff was not guilty.
There is no real solution to this. There is not the will or the funding to sequester jurors. As reports of independent research by jurors grow, the only meaningful response we are likely to see are judges making a bigger point of clarifying to jurors their obligations not to turn to outside sources. But, really, it is already pretty clear so I don’t think their making a bigger issue of it is going to do a whole lot of good.
Reading this article reminded me of a comment jury consultant David Ball made at a seminar that I had forgotten about until now. Mr. Ball said that jurors read the lawyers’ websites so you should make sure that nothing you have on the website would offend their sensibilities. I looked at our website again yesterday, wondering if our website had anything on it that I would not want a juror to see. I did not find anything but it is something that every personal injury lawyer with a website should keep in mind.
[Update: in 2013, the big Internet issue in tort cases is Facebook discovery.]