Kitsap Crime and Justice

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Lawyers increasingly checking social media sites to assess jurors

September 25th, 2011 by josh farley

Surprise, surprise: The wealth of information many of us post about our lives on social media sites is being eyed by lawyers.

Last fall during jury selection in a murder case in Kitsap County Superior Court, prosecutors asked the potential triers-of-fact if they regularly “blogged” at newspaper web sites. The motivation by the state’s lawyers was to analyze their points of view to see if they could be impartial jurors.

Fast forward to this year in Maryland, where prosecutors argued successfully to redact juror candidates’ names prior to trial, to keep defense attorneys from Googling them before trial, according to a story in the Baltimore Sun. The judge signed off on the request.

It goes without saying that the more we participate in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, the more of our lives become transparent.  They create records of our interactions, our ideas and our beliefs.

Police regularly Google suspects’ names during law enforcement investigations. So do we in the media world for the stories we write. I’d guess most people have conducted an Internet search or two (or many) to learn more about others.

So it is without surprise that our nation’s legal minds are also mining the Internet. Any information that could give them an edge — from finding evidence on Facebook that supports their case  to rooting out a juror that shows his bias commenting on news stories — is fair game.

Will there be courtroom rules to officiate such searching? So far, our judicial system, which moves far slower than technology, hasn’t caught up.

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3 Responses to “Lawyers increasingly checking social media sites to assess jurors”

  1. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    Does it matter, Josh?
    “Any information that could give them an edge — from finding evidence on Facebook that supports their case to rooting out a juror that shows his bias commenting on news stories — is fair game.”
    They are only allowed so many ‘no’ on jurors for one case, aren’t they?
    I would be hard pressed to be objective on any jury for a child molester…

  2. heybooboo Says:

    What if the comments to newspaper websites are done anonymously, using a user name agreed to or accepted by that newspaper? Are newspapers releasing user-name info to the lawyers?

  3. josh farley Says:

    Heybooboo:

    Good point. They are anonymous.

    There is one catch: there have been cases I’ve heard about in which those commenters have been subpoenaed for court. We’ve had nothing like that around here, however.

    -Josh

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