June 29, 2009 by Robert Tharp at 1:50:43 pm
Add our revered halls of justice to the growing list of U.S. institutions on a crash course with the wide-open information frontier made possible by the Internet and social
media networks like Facebook and Twitter. Technology lawyer Tom Melsheimer of Fish & Richardson's Dallas office and State District Judge Craig Smith describe the phenomenon in a recent Houston Chronicle op-ed piece detailing how the unprecedented access to information and the format's two-way communication platform are proving irresistible to jurors in cases across the country.
Melsheimer and Smith write:
Web-savvy jurors these days encounter a court system that by necessity still operates in essentially the same manner as it has for generations. In a world of lightning speed exchanges of electronic information, our courts continue to rely on hard copy documents and judges who must serve as heavy handed gatekeepers of information. Lowly jurors accustomed to instant gratification and a two-way information exchange increasingly find themselves in an unfamiliar and uncomfortably passive role.
Simultaneously, as Americans use social media to provide a now-ubiquitous "what are you doing?" running daily dialogue via Facebook and Twitter, a stint on jury duty is proving irresistible fodder. Never mind that our justice system hinges on a sacred premise that jurors start a case with an unprejudiced, blank slate and promise to consider only the information and evidence presented in trial.
Some might see this latest challenge as more fodder for the argument that juries are an outmoded and unintelligent way of resolving disputes. We have seen this sort of debate before. Others might say that we should just relax and assume that jurors will follow the instructions that they are given.
We think that neither approach is sensible. Instead, judges must take an intelligent, active approach to instructing jurors about the Internet, keeping in mind the temptations of the modern Internet-savvy juror. They must allow, even encourage, lawyers to ask questions about potential jurors' use of the Internet, including participation in networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Simply reminding each juror, "don't discuss the case," just won't get the job done anymore, if it ever did. These instructions can't wait until a jury is sworn in but should begin when potential jurors first enter the system and receive their briefing in the central jury rooms. Otherwise, the judicial system will find itself meting out justice, not via the common sense of citizens, but via tweets, text messages and blog postings. OMG.
Read the entire commentary here.
To interview Mr. Melsheimer, contact Bruce Vincent at 800-559-4534 or firstname.lastname@example.org
June 5, 2009 by Robert Tharp at 1:39:33 pm
You don't need an exhaustive academic study to establish that driving a car while sending a text message is not a smart idea. Still, one recent study found that young drivers far more likely to get in wrecks and even run over pedestrians while texting, while another revealed that 83 percent of Americans think it's not a bad idea
and should be banned. Meanwhile, one in four drivers admit to doing it from time to time.
Reports the Christian Science Monitor: But itís no joke. And the bigger the vehicle you're driving, the greater the danger. Just ask the people who were on the Boston Green Line trolley that smashed into the back of another one recently. At the time of the accident, the driver was texting his girlfriend, he admitted. Dozens were injured, the driver lost his job, and the MBTA said it would ban on-the-job cellphone use and fire anyone caught using a cellphone, pager, or similar device during working hours.
But at least no one was killed in that accident. The same is not true of the horrific accident last September in California when, it is speculated, a train operator may have missed a stop signal because he was texting shortly before the accident.
Last year, Mark Melrose of Mountainside Hospital in Montclair, N.J., a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, told USA Today that most people probably donít initiate text messages while driving, but find it hard not to respond if they receive one.
From the urban dictionary courtesy of the Monitor: "Text-end: When a text-messaging-distracted driver rear-ends the vehicle in front of [him]...."
While there is little dispute whether drivers should be texting or not, Dallas attorney Brian Bolton says legislation is not the answer to this problem and won't make streets any safer. The problem is enforceability and practicality. "We're seeing that statewide bans of text messaging are no more successful in eliminating bad behavior than other laws regulating speeding, seat belts or mandatory insurance," Bolton says. "Unless police see a driver actively text messaging, this kind of choice is almost impossible to enforce." Bolton points out that there is little sentiment to create laws that regulate other actions - from eating to putting on make-up - that can cause driver distraction. "Public awareness and common sense are likely going to be more effective than broad-based bans." To interview Mr. Bolton, contact Barry Pound at 800-559-4534 or email@example.com.
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