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Jurors and Technology
The legal press has been buzzing for a couple of years now with stories of jurors Tweeting, Facebooking and even Wikipedia-ing (is that a verb?) from the jury room and even the courtroom in some cases. There is a lot of handwringing about what we need to do to stop it - to preserve the vacuum that is a jury trial.
Unfortunately I think that approach is well-intentioned but doomed to fail. If there's anything that modern tech has shown us is that we're in an age where almost anybody can have Google in their pocket.
I have a device right here (Motorola Droid) that let's me press one button and then SPEAK the terms I want to search for. Moments later, assuming I have any kind of wireless signal, I will get the Google results for that term. I can take a picture of something with the camera and Google Goggles will search for it and try to tell me things about it.
We're an information society and trying to keep Jurors from being influenced by that nearly ubiquitous information is like the proverbial little Dutch boy with his finger in the dam - it's an effort that I think is doomed to failure; at least in the big multi-day trials.
Short of building our courthouses as a giant black box that blocks all in and outbound transmissions and sequestering the jurors inside for the duration, trying to prevent them from accessing any modern technology is doomed to be a losing battle.
Perhaps the better approach is to control what technology they have - rather than blocking it. If jurors are seeking additional information from Wikipedia it shows that they're hungry for more facts - maybe we should give it to them? Not in the form of Wikipedia, of course. Wikipedia is a terrific resource but it shouldn't be considered authoritative. Perhaps what the court needs to do is create a list of APPROVED information sources and allow jurors to access those via provided, and locked-down, computers in the jury room. They could even include, carefully vetted, materials provided by the parties in the case.
A better educated and informed jury can only benefit our legal system. You can argue that it's the job of the lawyers to educate the jury as regards the facts of the case, but I don't believe a case should hinge on how good of an educator a particular lawyer is. If the jury misunderstands blood evidence or how data is stored or how food is prepared and returns a verdict that is inconsistent with the truth then that hasn't served anybody well.
Jurors are hungry for information and unless we give them enough healthy information to snack on they're going to continue to make surrepticious runs to the Internet drive-thru to get it.