American users of smartphones (which is almost everyone at this point) are rarely without these devices. According to Mashable Tech, the average person spends about three hours daily socializing on social network applications on their mobile devices – which is more than twice the amount of time they spend eating. Indeed, every passing thought – even mundane life experiences – have become the subject of user engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and others. So it’s not at all surprising that jurors are tempted to post about the experience as it’s happening. After all, they do it with every other element in life.
The problem is that it can conflict with the constitutional right of parties in a lawsuit or criminal case to receive a trial by a jury that is both fair and impartial. Part of that means only considering the evidence presented to them in court. But when social media feedback and information on the case is readily available at their fingertips, some jurors find the temptation too much to avoid. The U.S. Supreme Court held in the 1982 case of Smith v. Phillips that it’s virtually impossible to shield jurors from every possible influence or contact that could theoretically affect their vote. Still, prejudicial influences and occurrences need to be prevented whenever possible. When they do occur, courts need to carefully examine the effect on the case and whether either party was deprived of fair proceedings as a result, which could be grounds for a new trial.
Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently grappled with this very issue in Murphy v. Roth, a personal injury lawsuit filed after a car accident involving plaintiff and defendant. Continue reading