Social Media and the Courtroom: Will Trials Ever Be the Same?

August 15, 2013

9:00 am

My old job at the bar uses it. My girlfriend and I let each other know what we’re up to with it. Last semester one of my classmates used it to find me so she could get an assignment she missed when she couldn’t make it to class, and earlier today I was able to show my mother pictures of my new dog and I kayaking up the Hudson River on it.

It’s social media. Surprised? I can’t imagine that you are. The hand of social media is wide and strong, and its fingers have reached into nearly every aspect of our lives.

Actually, after writing that I had a thought. What if it actually has gotten everywhere? What if there isn’t a single place that social media can’t show any influence?

Jurors And Social Media

There are few places more secure than a courtroom in the middle of a trial, especially when the trial has a high profile. What goes on behind courtroom doors has always been a bit of a mystery, a mystery only partly explained after by court reporters and sketch artists.

But there is a noble reason for the mystery. Every person that is accused of a crime is allowed a fair trial by an impartial jury of peers. That’s straight from the 6th Amendment, but what does it mean? Basically, it means that jurors should be completely free from bias, which in most cases means a lack of knowledge of the trial. That’s why jurors are often sequestered in longer cases – the longer the case, the greater the odds that a juror will come under the influence of media coverage, in which case the judge would have to call a mistrial.

So what happens, then, when a juror or, more likely, a court reporter gives play-by-play tweets of the proceedings? Can someone still have a fair trial if the information the media uncovers is posted online, tweeted, and Googled? There’s no official US government rule on tweeting in court at the moment. Some judges think it’s the same as televised news or radio, which is banned in courtrooms. Reporters, of course, argue that it’s more like taking notes, notes that can be instantly shared. The problem is that both of them, in a way, are right.

Lawyers and Social Media

Of course, social media isn’t just used by court reporters and jurors. During the jury selection process, known as the voir dire, both the defense and the prosecution have the chance to vet the jurors. If either side finds a juror to be biased in any way, that juror can be dismissed.

With the aid of social media, lawyers now have a way to find out if a juror might be misrepresenting themselves in order to get onto the jury. Lawyers have to have as much information as they can about potential jurors in order to provide the fairest possible trial for their clients. And with social media on their side, the odds of uncovering a hidden truth are a bit better.

Whether ultimately good or bad, social media has become a staple in our lives – and if it hasn’t already reached every conceivable area of influence, it soon will. The only real question is, do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing?

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Daniel Cassady is an experienced freelancer, guest blogger, and frequent contributor to a blog hosted by Benchmark Email Marketing services.

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