Paula Hannaford-Agor, JD, MPP, Dr. David Rottman, and Dr. Nicole Waters, all of the National Center for State Courts, presented a paper entitled Jurors and Jury Use of New Media: A Baseline Exploration, at ICLS 2012: International Conference on Law and Society, held 5-8 June 2012 in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
Here is the abstract:
The incidence of juror use of advanced communications technologies to conduct independent research on trial-related issues and to communicate with others about the trial while it is underway is a source of increasing concern about the fairness of jury verdicts. In the past two years, at least 90 court opinions have been published addressing allegations of juror misconduct, of which 28 of the verdicts were ultimately overturned. In this paper, the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts describes the results of a pilot test of survey instruments and study protocols conducted in 2011 to document the frequency of juror and jury use of new media and its impact on trial deliberations and verdicts. The pilot study sample consisted of completed study packages from 9 civil trials and 6 criminal trials. Six trial judges form 5 states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, and Texas) participated in the pilot study. Case types included in the pilot study included manslaughter, robbery/theft, drug offenses, sexual assault, and firearm offenses (criminal trials), and automobile tort and dram shop claims (civil trials). Overall, the NCSC obtained very high response rates and good compliance with the study protocols. The surveys of judges and lawyers focused on case and trial characteristics, and opinions about the severity of problems related to juror use of new media. The pilot test also recorded baseline information from more than 500 prospective jurors in those jurisdictions about jurors’ access to contemporary communication technologies, their awareness of restrictions on use of those technologies, and interest in using those technologies during trial and deliberations. Among the key findings from the pilot study were the following:
- Judges and attorneys view juror Internet use as a moderately severe problem.
- Jurors and prospective jurors view themselves as technologically knowledgeable and the overwhelming majority had daily, if not immediate, access to the Internet through a variety of communication devices. This level of access and usage is comparable to national surveys of adult Internet use.
- Most jurors correctly understood judicial admonitions concerning Internet use by jurors, but sizeable minorities either misunderstood or were unsure about those admonitions.
- Sizeable proportions of jurors said that they would have wanted to use the Internet to conduct case-related research or communicate with family and friends. No difference in juror interest levels expressed between civil and criminal trials.
- A small number of jurors and alternates reported that they engaged in “old-fashioned” misconduct (discussions with other jurors, with family/friends), but none of the misconduct involved Internet use. Four jurors in 4 separate trials reported that they relied moderately heavily on information obtained through misconduct.
The paper concludes with suggestions to modify the study methods to address inherent limitations in the methodological approach adopted for the pilot test.
For the full text of the paper, please contact the authors.