Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mistrial: Jurors On The Internet

Although we hear time after time that a jury verdict of "guilty" means the defendant "did it," we know otherwise. Too many people have been exonerated after a guilty verdict for us to continue to believe that if 6 or 12 people decide to check the "guilty" box it means anything other than that they "believe" he did it.

We expect jurors to rely only on the evidence presented at trial, but we know that is not the case. Jurors bring with them the government cradled "common sense," and their own history. Jurors say they will be fair, that they will rely only on the evidence presented at trial, that they understand the lawyers are not on trial, and all that other good stuff.

Then they go on the internet.

A mistrial was granted in a complex federal case this week because of the internet.

Luckily, a juror brought it to the judge's attention.

This juror advised that another juror talked about evidence not presented at trial. He said he knew more about the case. He said he read about it, on the internet.

The offending juror said it wasn't true, and then under the eye of the federal judge, admitted the truth.

This led to the other jurors being questioned.

Many others admitted they searched the internet about the case, and the lawyers.

They did this during the trial, and during deliberations.

This is one trial. I imagine it goes on in hundreds across the country.

This issue brings to light questions about what jurors really consider in their deliberations. We in the system know it is more than the evidence, we now know it's google, facebook, blogs, websites, and anything else posted on the information superhighway.

We used to tell jurors not to watch TV or read the papers. Now with those mediums going away, all that is left is where I am right now, the internet.

This issue raises more issues. With TV and newspapers, jurors were possibly tainted by the reporters view of the case, but the information was limited to whatever was said with a microphone in front of the courthouse, or column space.

Now, jurors can read comments left on blogs and newspaper sites, personal information about the lawyers and maybe the judge. The information is everywhere and accessible on cell phones while jurors are in the bathroom.

Think about this if you are a trial lawyer, what is on the internet about you? What have you written? (Oh shit). What has been written about you? Can you control it? No.

Can you control the jurors?

Probably not.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit

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