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Tweet May Thwart Trial Process

Don't tweet in court or you may disrupt the whole judicial process.

The Florida Supreme Court will soon be examining recommendations from a Florida Bar committee that addresses the issue of jurors using electronic devices while in court to research a given case or to post information on their Twitter or Facebook accounts.

The issue has become more and more prevalent for court houses around the country that have had problems arise when judges have learned that jurors are using the Internet to communicate about the trial, or do background research.

The joint committee of the Florida Supreme Court Committees for Standard Jury Instructions in Civil and Criminal Cases is recommending to the court that jurors be read jury instructions multiple times and “they should be told that they cannot perform outside research using the Internet or use electronic devices to communicate about the case.”

In South Florida last year, a federal judge declared a mistrial in a huge federal drug case when several jurors admitted to doing online research about the trial. In Pennsylvania, a corruption case against a powerful state senator was nearly derailed by a juror who made postings about the case on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Jurors are not supposed to seek information about a case outside of the courtroom. They're not supposed to talk about the case with their friends or family or let them know their opinions on it. But people used to being attached to a cell phone or Blackberry can easily access information about a case at the click of a button.

“Many individuals called for jury service, especially younger jurors, have grown up with the Internet,” reads the petition by the joint committee. “These potential jurors may consider constant communication through cell phones, Blackberries, and other devices to be a normal part of everyday life.”

Other state courts have already moved to enact rules requiring judges to explicitly explain to jurors that they cannot look up information online about the case and that they cannot post their thoughts on social media sites.

As part of the proposed instructions, judges would say to jurors the following:

“I want to stress that this rule means you must not use electronic devices or computers to communicate about this case, including tweeting, texting, blogging, E-mailing, posting information on a Website or chat room, or any other means at all. Do not send or accept any messages to or from anyone about this case or your jury service. “

The Florida Supreme Court has not yet set a date to hear the rule proposal in court.

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