Juror Use of Social Media, Blogs Compromise Cases

Posted December 2, 2011 in Internet Law by Keith Ecker

smart phone jury texting blog bloggingIn August of 2009, Eve Bradshaw was sitting on the jury of an Illinois wrongful death case. The case concerned a blind man who was struck by a commuter train. On several occasions, after Bradshaw left the courtroom, she logged into her blog and wrote an entry describing the dialogue that took place in the jury room that day. Shortly after the trial court issued a $4.75 million verdict in the plaintiff’s favor, the defense attorneys discovered the posts and requested a hearing to determine if juror misconduct had occurred. The trial court refused. On Sept. 30 of this year, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision. Now the defense has turned to the Illinois Supreme Court to get a final verdict on whether Bradshaw’s blogging botched the case. 

  • Juror posts blogs detailing wrongful death case.
  • Defendants appeal decision to state supreme court.
  • Courts begin incorporating digital technology into juror instructions.

 

Divulging Details Digitally

Smartphone

Bradshaw’s jury-related postings began on Aug. 6, 2009 when she wrote, “Today I gotselected to serve on a jury, and the judge said the case could last two to three weeks. I am in heaven.” On Aug. 8, Bradshaw wrote again, this time describing the proceeding as a “Very Big Trial” and detailed the voir dire process, the stage in jury selection when potential jurors are scrutinized.

“So our jury consists of a fireman, a dressmaker, a bar manager, a guy who just finished college, two office managers, a special education teacher, a trader, a freelance writer (me!), and five others, including two alternates,” Bradshaw wrote on Aug. 8. “We have ten women and four men; ten white and four black.”

The next post was on Aug. 12. Here, Bradshaw reveals further details about the nature of the case, describing it as “a wrongful death civil lawsuit” and that the victim was male. She proceeded to describe actions that occurred within the courtroom, including the testimony of the deceased’s widow.

“The last witness for the plaintiff was the plaintiff herself, the widow of the allegedly wrongfully dead guy,” Bradshaw wrote. “At times during her testimony, there were tears rolling down the face of the juror sitting in front of me, and I don’t think she was alone. Sympathy won’t win their case—but it sure doesn’t hurt.”

The last blog Bradshaw posted before the conclusion of the case was published on Aug. 16. Simply titled “Jury Tales,” the post describes conversations that took place in the jury room and a discussion Bradshaw had with her husband about the case wherein she “almost—ALMOST—let the name of [large company] slip out. In fact, I did let the first syllable slip out. Twice. Oops.”

Court Considers Blog Posts Harmless

Based on the content of Bradshaw’s blogs, the defense alleged that the jurors discussed the case amongst themselves before it was delivered to them for deliberation and decision, that one juror stated to other members of the jury that she had made up her mind before the close of evidence and that Bradshaw discussed the case with her husband during the trial.

The appellate court concluded that, despite Bradshaw’s blogings, the jurors were not exposed to outside information that would have influenced their decision in the case. Additionally, Bradshaw’s blogs that pertained to premature deliberations did not indicate that the jury was biased. Rather, her writings indicate that they were open-minded.

Trial attorney Mitch Jackson of the Jackson and Wilson law firm says that he is not surprised the appellate court agreed with the trial court’s decision.

“A court is going to look at whether the incident of jury misconduct prejudiced or otherwise influenced or detrimentally affected the outcome of the case,” Jackson says. “Unless you can show me that juror misconduct was substantial or to a level that changed the outcome of the trial, it is unlikely to result in a mistrial.”

The Digital Age Enters the Court Room

Mitch Jackson

Bradshaw’s blog posts are not the first time the use of digital technology has interfered with a court case. Recently, there have been reports of jurors posting their musings to Twitter and Facebook.

“The courts have modified their preliminary instructions that they give a jury to include things like banning the use of Internet and cellphones,” Jackson says. “If a judge doesn’t do that, I’m seeing a lot of good trial attorneys take the initiative and ask the court to remind jurors. I’m seeing this happen in almost every single trial.”

Jackson says that the nature of digital technology, with its ease of access and use, makes it much more difficult to restrict. This means some jurors are likely to blog and use social media despite the court’s instructions.

“With smartphones, it is so much faster and easier for a juror to violate the rule of a court,” Jackson says. “Jurors also have a false sense of privacy, thinking that it will only take a second to access and no one will know.”

Keith Ecker co-authors the Lawyers.com blog.

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