Well, it's official. If you're doing your civic duty as a juror in California and you Tweet (or Facebook or e-mail or… name your technology) about the trial, you will officially be in criminal contempt of court. What does that mean to you? It could mean six months in the klink!
Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation on Friday (Assembly Bill 141, authored by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Los Angeles) which requires trial judges to tell jurors that existing bans on conducting their own research about the case, or talking to outsiders about it, applies to electronic and wireless communication. Violations by jury members will be punishable by up to six months in jail for criminal contempt.
Having just served as a juror last week on a criminal matter and as an attorney trying a civil matter just a couple of months ago in Santa Monica, I can attest to the fact that judges take the use (or misuse) of technology very seriously. They admonish the jurors not to discuss the case with anyone including their significant others or the jury when not in actual deliberations. They further stress, and I mean STRESS, the rules forbidding the use of electronic devices to Tweet, text, Facebook, e-mail or in any other way, shape or form any information, thoughts, questions or other communication about the case. Jurors are not to use electronic devices to research the case or any facts about the case.
As a lawyer, I actually think that these are good rules. Verdicts are to be based upon the evidence admitted during the trial. Verdicts are not to be based on a jurors' independent research. I believe that the integrity of the judicial system must be preserved. Read California Criminal Jury Instructions 101-102.
You may also be interested to read what others are saying about this new law. Most think that it's just one more useless law designed to quash the First Amendment and ultimately create more crowding in our already overcrowded jails. Here are links to other articles and comments about this bill:
California Jurors Tempted By Technology Could Face Jail Time (Article) (Wall Street Journal Blog)
California Jurors Tempted By Technology Could Face Jail Time (Comments) (Wall Street Journal Blog)
Jurors To Be Told Not to Tweet Under New Law (SF Chronicle)
California Governor Sends Message to Jurors: No Tweeting (Law Technology News)
What do you think?