Juries and Social Media: Why Can’t I Google, Tweet, Facebook or Blog about the Trial?

(With thanks to Retired Judge Dennis M. Sweeney for his contributions to this article, and to the Maryland State Bar Association Bar Journal’s in-depth article on this subject.)

Instant electronic communications and social media are everywhere, which is amazing considering how new they are.

But the new technology, which encourages us to stay constantly connected to friends, families and online acquaintances, does not always mesh with jury rules, which include:

New technology tempts jurors to ignore the rules and text or post their feelings, opinions and details about the trial they are sitting on, or get answers and information the way they do in their everyday life—by searching the Internet or asking friends on social media sites.

But serving on a jury is not everyday life. It’s special, with special rules to make sure that trials are fair for all and carried out according to laws that govern all of us.

Draft Jury Instructions About Social Media and Electronic Communications

Contributed by Retired Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, Howard County Circuit Court, who remarks: “I think that every jury should get instructions about social media and electronic communications right at the start of the trial. After studying proposals for these kinds of instructions from other jurisdictions, I’ve drafted the following instructions”:

Judge Sweeney concludes: “Jurors should be reminded of these instructions frequently during the trial, before any recess and particularly when the jury separates at the end of the day. The Maryland State Bar Association’s Maryland Pattern Jury Instruction Committee, of which I am a member, is currently drafting instructions on this subject.”