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Judges advise jurors not to tweet during trials

Many judges are now amending their instructions to jurors, asking them not only to restrict talking or reading about cases they are hearing, but also to avoid using social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to report news during trials. Such updates have spurred some attorneys to file for mistrials in some cases because jurors have used Twitter and instant messaging to keep others informed.

There’s no secret that the Internet has changed the way many people get their news. More and more people are turning to online sources for information. Likewise, they have turned to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, both readily available on today’s smart phones, to keep them up-to-date on happenings ranging from the James Beard Award announcements to political debates. Why would high-profile jury cases be any different?

Add in personal blogs, which flood the Internet these days, and what you get is a recipe for serious scoops and, sometimes, news that in some cases may not need to be shared, especially by jurors.

“What we’re seeing is judges now having to ask during … (jury selection) if anyone has a blog,” says trial consultant Dr. Cynthia Cohen, president of the American Society of Trial Consultants, to The Birmingham News. “With Twitter and instant messaging, being first, getting something out immediately is a thrill for them,” she adds.

But using such networking sites during jury trials can come at a price. After a juror in Arkansas used Twitter updates during a trial involving a building products company, the company’s attorneys asked the court to overturn the $12.6 million judgment against it.

Nipping the news-sharing problem in the bud is the best defense for judges to reduce the risk of information surfacing on the Internet, Cohen says. “If prospective jurors are better scrutinized during voir dire, the more likely you are to eliminate the problem and avoid a mistrial.”