As a result of COVID-19, Americans rely even more heavily on the Internet and social media to complete everyday tasks than they did before the pandemic. Indeed, courts in several states are piloting remote jury selection and even fully remote trials to resume jury trials safely, raising concerns about the risk of juror misconduct involving new media. With SJI support, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) undertook a study of jurors and new media, including a survey of judges and lawyers about their opinions and experience with incidents of alleged juror misconduct and a review of more than 20 years of case law in which the issue was addressed.
Among the key findings:
• Only one-quarter of judges and lawyers reported having any experience with juror misconduct involving new media in their professional careers, but 41% believe that one or more jurors will use new media inappropriately in any given trial;
• Cases that pose the highest risk of juror misconduct include serious criminal charges, multiday trials, cases involving unfamiliar terms or concepts, trials in which jurors may find information on reputable websites or local news media, and trials in which attorneys know or suspect that prejudicial information exists online;
• Incidents reported in the judge and attorney survey were usually discovered during trial, providing the trial judge with the opportunity to conduct an investigatory hearing and address any prejudicial impact of the misconduct in a timely manner;
• As long as trial judges adequately investigated incidents of alleged juro
misconduct, appellate courts overwhelming affirmed their responses to those incidents;
• Recent case law tends to focus on the extent to which extraneous
information is prejudicial to the parties, reserving the remedy of a mistrial or new trial only for cases in which the information is clearly prejudicial.
A detailed technical report and a brief Research Highlights are available