The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that a defendant’s attorneys in a recent criminal trial say that jurors used a Google search to get definitions of legal language that they did not understand. The attorneys want their client’s convictions thrown out. Jurors are told throughout trials to decide cases only on the evidence presented in court and on the judge’s legal instructions. There was no specific mention in the instructions not to Google information, though many judges now are including that. A hearing is set for July 19.
The problem of jurors using social media or doing Internet research is not new, although experts say it does not appear to be a serious problem, at least in terms of reported numbers. A recent survey of 508 federal judges found such incidents to be “infrequent,” with only 30 instances of jurors being caught using social media in trial or in deliberations. The survey by the Federal Judicial Center showed that jurors had “friended” participants in a case, divulged confidential information or revealed information about other jurors. In those cases, four mistrials were declared, nine people were removed from juries, eight were cautioned, one was held in contempt and one was fined.