There are definitely do’s and don’ts for living with mobile technology. A lot has to do with disturbing or offending other people — obnoxious ringtones, texting during a date, loud phone conversations in public, Facebook-updating in a dark movie theater — but others can be less obvious. Take jury duty, for instance.
A friend of mine was called in for jury duty not too long ago, and seeing that her pal is a tech blogger, she asked me if it was okay for her to bring/use her phone. Frankly, I didn’t know off the top of my head, so I dug around a little and saw this recent gem from GeekSugar: “3 Tech Don’ts to Avoid While on Jury Duty.” Apparently, it has become quite a thing for smartphoners to get into hot water doing their civic duty.
Did you know that a Texas juror got himself in a heap of trouble last month for trying to Facebook friend the defendant? The man was found guilty on four counts of contempt of court. Jury duty may not always be stimulating, but c’mon! This fail trumps the “D’oh!” list more than most.
Apparently we have quite a history of mobile phone fails in the courtroom. Equally bone-headed is the citizen who got called out for calling a defendant guilty via Facebook update last year. Get this — she not only had to pay a fine, but was required to compose an essay on the constitutional right to a fair trial.
That same year, a jury foreman in Florida looked up the word “prudent” on a cell phone and told the other jurors. No big deal, right? Wrong. The meaning of the word was an important factor in this case, as both sides argued whether the actions of the accused, a 60-year-old man who allegedly shot a 19-year-old, was prudent. The court had instructed that only the information as presented in the case could be considered — indeed, dictionaries aren’t even allowed in the jury room — and this fueled the defense’s argument that the found definition would affect the verdict. End result? The court declared a mistrial.
Then there was the 2009 news of an Ohio man who got himself removed from duty via Facebook update, all in seven words or less: “Barry Price is sitting in hell… aka jury duty.” The defense tried to argue for a mistrial, but instead, the judge kicked the juror to the curb and continued with the proceedings.
So is it a failure of everyday citizens to exercise some common sense use of their smartphones, or is it a matter of courtrooms not accounting enough for modern technology? Not sure. Though some courtrooms seem to be banning phones and tablets, others are even installing WiFi to ease communication concerns of jurors, so the messages are somewhat mixed. But either way, if there’s a question about whether to use that gadget or not, err on the side of caution. In other words:
- Don’t Tweet or Facebook update about the case at all — not your state of mind, level of boredom (or intrigue), or especially opinions about guilt or innocence regarding the matter before you.
- For goodness’ sake, don’t message, follow or otherwise contact anyone related to the case (especially the defendant!)
- If you have the will power to see those icons and not tap on them for the duration of the trial, then more power to you. If not, and you have a hard time disconnecting from your networks, you could always remove the apps from your device, to avoid the temptation.
- Don’t Google the defendant or anyone else associated with the proceedings. That goes for the attorneys, the victim or even the judge. And definitely don’t look for their online or social networking profiles.
- Don’t look up any words or phrases using your smartphone or tablet. Maybe you don’t want to appear dumb in front of the court, but getting busted for looking up “jurisprudence” — and potentially screwing up the case — won’t win you any smartypants awards either.
For some people, following these tips may not be easy, but they are absolutely necessary to maintain “a clean court room” — and keep you from committing epic jury duty tech blunders.