Every now and again you’ll hear how some idiot misused the Internet while on jury service: either tweeting away on a phone when they were meant to be paying attention to proceedings, researching the case against a judge’s orders, or even posting their opinion on the defendant’s guilt before deliberations begin.
Now, though, the lawyers are turning the tables. The Wall Street Journal reports that some US lawyers are searching Facebook for details about potential jurors ahead of a trial.
While some countries simply select a jury at random and only excuse members if they have a direct link to the case, the US uses a jury selection process. This involves lawyers questioning a pool of potential jurors, with each side having the right to reject a certain number with (in most cases) no reason required. The idea is to allow both sides the opportunity to eliminate jurors who might be particularly biased against their case.
The Facebook research doesn’t seem to be as much about bias as looking for particular personality types. For example, if a potential juror comes across online as an aggressive personality with strong opinions, they could dominate the jury deliberations. That might make the outcome more unpredictable, which makes the person a bad pick for a side that feels confident it has the evidence on its side.
There are some more specific reasons for concern. A defense lawyer might look out for somebody who notes on their profile that they are a keen fan of crime procedural shows such as CSI: such jurors may place too much weight on the reliability of DNA evidence (and the fact that it does a much more reliable job of discounting a link than it does proving one.)
While the time limitations don’t appear a problem (one law firm provides attorneys with iPads for some quick research once they meet the juror pool), there are problems when users have some or all of their details set to private. That’s led to one lawyer suggesting a solution which frankly sounds like a contradiction of the whole purpose of an independent jury: he wants to give jurors free WiFi in the court building in return for adding his law firm as a Facebook friend.