The New York Times is reporting that last week an eight-week federal drug trial in Florida was jeopardized when the jurors admitted to the judge that they had been doing independent research throughout the trial on their cell phones. This is a direct violation of the instructions any jury receives–including Orange County juries–and as a result a mistrial was announced.
Use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is an epidemic in courtrooms throughout the country, causing mistrials and frustrating judges and attorneys. For example, last week, a building company asked an Arkansas court to overturn a $12.6 million judgment, claiming that a juror used Twitter to send updates during the trial.
In trial, jurors are not supposed to seek information outside of the courtroom and are instructed to only base their verdict on facts presented to them in trial- and never, under any circumstance seek out additional evidence on their own.
These reports are unsettling as it calls into question a Los Angeles defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial on every case regardless of whether it is a DUI or a murder case. At some point, I could see judges confiscating cell phones while jurors are serving on a panel. However, technology does have a silver lining for trial attorneys. Now more than ever, attorneys can find out more information about potential jurors and their opponent’s witnesses as a result of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
Comments about this post can be directed to Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney William Weinberg at (714) 834-1400.