I've written a few posts about jurors ignoring their oaths and researching trials via the Internet or commenting on them via social media (heck I just wrote about it a week ago), but I hadn't seen any hard numbers to illustrate how pervasive the problem is; until now…
"The data show that since 1999, at least 90 verdicts have been the subject of challenges because of alleged Internet-related juror misconduct. More than half of the cases occurred in the last two years." [Bold & italics added]
Yes, I'm well aware of the ratio of 90 verdicts to the total amount of verdicts in any given year, but there are two things that concern me:
- If we, as attorneys, truly believe in the right to a fair trial under the 6th Amendment (criminal cases) – never mind the right to a fair trial in civil matters as well – we should be offended by the statistic, even if it happens only once (unrealistic, I know, but that's not the point).
- Look at the exponential growth – more than 50% of the challenges occurred in the past two years.
The illness is spreading. The courts are addressing the issue by fine-tuning jury instructions, but if a juror is inclined to break the rules in the first place, I don't think an instruction will have much value unless it's followed up by punitive measures when the rules are violated.
Now, to the headline. One of the things that was shocking to me when I was in law school was how specific case language can be. It's not that I'm sensitive to those things, just that I didn't expect it. This story reminded me of such a 1st Amendment case (anyone remember Cohen v. California?), but I was slightly amazed to read about a juror who was so out to lunch that he openly flouted the rules by posting "F**k the judge." on his Facebook page – about the judge overseeing the very case he was currently sitting on!
Wait a minute. I sat on juries myself and have tried both civil and criminal cases. I'm not that amazed…