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
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