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Clipping Jurors' Wings: New Jury Instructions Say No Tweets

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

The new forms of communication via social media have really taken wing in the courtroom setting. The ABA Law Journal reports that now, not only are judges prohibiting trial tweets, they are moving to codify these prohibitions as well.

As reported in The Blog of Legal Times, the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, a committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, has developed additions to the federal model jury instructions specifically to address the new technology. The new instructions not only place limits on tweeting, texting and talking during the trial itself, but also remind jurors they are not allowed to use any kind of technology to do research on the case during trial or deliberations.

The BLT writes that Judge Julie Robinson explained the purpose of the new rules in a memo to district court judges. She writes that the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management has, "developed these instructions to address the increasing incidence of juror use of such devices as cellular telephones or computers to conduct research on the Internet or communicate with others about cases. Such use has resulted in mistrials, exclusion of jurors, and imposition of fines."

A mistrial would certainly be on the list of options if any of the recently reported defendant tweets hit jurors' accounts in cases such as those in Detroit and Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that in the Pittsburgh corruption trial of former state Rep. Mike Veon, defendant Stephen Keefer posted such discreet tweets as, "AG's ... R worried about me saying anything bad about [AG] (Tom) Corbett or this phony investigation," until ordered to stop by the judge. He later resumed tweeting until his own attorney told him to shut his beak to prevent potential "chaos."

Parallels can be drawn to the controversy over cameras in the courtroom, recently re-ignited by the Prop. 8 trial in California, where District Court Judge Vaughn Walker initially suggested a broadcast of the trial on YouTube. Clearly, the public has a right to know what goes on in the courtroom, balanced against the necessity for a fair and secure trial, but do they have a right to know right now?

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