Easy juror access to cyberspace is a growing problem for courts, including the it involves the criminal trial of Baltimore’s mayor, reports the Baltimore Sun. Last week, a Maryland appeals court upended a first-degree murder conviction because a juror consulted Wikipedia for trial information. Earlier this year, the same court erased a conviction for three counts of assault because a juror did cyberspace research and shared the findings with the rest of the jury. In a third case, a juror’s admission to using his laptop for off-limits information jeopardized an attempted-murder trial.
On Friday, lawyers for Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon asked for a new trial in part because five of the jurors who convicted her of embezzlement Dec. 1 were communicating among themselves on Facebook during the deliberations period – and at least one of them received an outsider’s online opinion of what the verdict should be. The “Facebook Friends,” as Dixon’s lawyers call them in court documents, became a clique that the lawyers argue altered jury dynamics. Jurors are told to reach a verdict based only on what the judge allows to be admitted at the trial, but information that a decade ago was inconvenient for inquisitive jurors to learn is now at their fingertips, on their cell phones, hand-held devices and laptops.