Model Instructions Address Jurors' Use of Social Media

A Judicial Conference Committee wrote them in response to a national survey of federal trial judges, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

New model jury instructions have been written that federal judges can use to deter jurors from using social media to research or communicate about cases on which they serve. They ask a juror who sees another juror violating the ban on social media to inform the judge in the case.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts noted these instructions came in response to a national survey of federal trial judges by the Federal Judicial Center at the request of the Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM).

"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," said Judge Julie A. Robinson, CACM committee chair. "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. Finally, jurors should know the consequences of violations during trial, such as mistrial and wasted time. Those recommendations are now part of the guidelines."

With the guidelines, trial judges are given a poster stressing the importance of jurors' making decisions based only on information presented in the courtroom. The poster can be displayed in the jury deliberation room or other areas where jurors congregate.

"The committee believes that the more frequently jurors are reminded of the prohibition on social media, whether the reminders are visually or orally given, the more likely they are to refrain from social media use during trial and deliberations," Robinson said.

The model instructions are just two pages long. They say, in part: "I know that many of you use cell phones, Blackberries, the internet and other tools of technology. You also must not talk to anyone at any time about this case or use these tools to communicate electronically with anyone about the case. This includes your family and friends. 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. You may not use any similar technology of social media, even if I have not specifically mentioned it here. I expect you will inform me as soon as you become aware of another juror's violation of these instructions."

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