New jury rules target Google+, MySpace, more

Tired of juries screwing up cases through social media, the federal courts have issued new instructions to rein in the use of Facebook, Twitter and more.

The new “model jury instructions” issued last week suggest judges are becoming more aware of social media. The instructions provide judges with text to read to jurors, including:

You may not communicate with anyone about the case on your cell phone, through e-mail, Blackberry, iPhone, text messaging, or on Twitter, through any blog or website, including Facebook (s fb), Google+ (s goog), My Space, LinkedIn (s lnkd), or YouTube.

Judge Julie A. Robinson, who helped prepare the instructions, told the U.S. Court system that judges should remind jurors “frequently” about the social media ban.

The instructions also tell jurors to tell the judge if they hear or see someone else breaking the rules.

The cautions may seem excessive but a growing number of trials have been going off the rails as a result of jurors misusing social media. In a seminal article on the problem, Reuters listed examples like:

  • Tweets like: “Jury duty is a blow. I’ve already made up my mind. He’s guilty. LOL.”
  • A young male juror who wrote on Facebook: “F— the judge.”
  • A juror who blogged that a prosecutor was “Mr. Cheap Suit” and “annoying,” while the defense attorney “just exudes friendly. I want to go to lunch with him. And he’s cute.”

These sort of incidents can lead to mistrials and a big waste of time and money. The problem is hardly new, however, as  jurors have always had a hard time staying quiet about what they hear in court — the difference is they now have new platforms on which to gossip.

Here are the instructions:

Jury Instructions

(Image by Everett Collection via Shutterstock)