Monday, June 23, 2014

Is it ethical to check jurors’ social media accounts?

Every jury trial starts with what is called voir dire—a question-and-answer session between the lawyers and the pool of potential jurors. As lawyers, we are trying to deselect those jurors whom we feel would be unfairly biased against our case or our client. It is much more an art than a science, and the more information we can gather about potential jurors, the more educated of a decision we can make that a juror is not the right fit for our case. 

Recently, the American Bar Association made this information gathering a little bit easier. In an ethics opinion (h/t: ABC News), the ABA gave lawyers the green light to view jurors’ and potential jurors’ publicly available Internet information, which, for example, could include their Facebook or Twitter musing. 

The Internet is a treasure trove of information about jurors. You could learn their political leanings, religious background, and all about their jobs and families. In short, you could learn the entire backstory of a “connected” juror.

But, do you want to? Just because this information gathering is ethical does not mean it’s strategically wise. By using the Internet as a basis for questions about a potential juror, you will clue the entire pool of jurors in on the fact that you’ve been trolling online for information about them. They might view your ethical conduct as a creepy invasion of their privacy. Voir dire is as much about you learning about the jury as it is about the jury learning about you. In other words, you don’t want to piss off the jury during voir dire. If you lose credibility before the trial even starts, what chance do you have to win the case?

So, lawyers, my take is that Facebook-ing potential jurors presents more of a risk to damaging your credibility with the jury than any benefit you will receive from learning information to help with the inexact science of voir dire. And, if you choose to research jurors online, keep that choice private, and don’t let the jury know you’ve been trolling them. It’s not worth the risk of the jury punishing you for it from the privacy of their deliberations.

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