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Judge Cracks Down on Google Mistrials

Posted on : 21-09-2011 | By : Julie Gottlieb | In : Buzz, Government

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“Google Mistrials” refers to cases disrupted by jurors’ independent internet investigations. Specifically searches for lawyers, victims, witnesses, defendants, news articles, blogs and evidence that had been specifically excluded by the judge can lead to a “Google Mistrial.” While this is not necessarily a new phenomenon, over the past few years the immediacy and accessibility of smart phones has increased such occurrences and wreaked havoc on trials around the country.

Now a Manhattan federal judge, known for her series 2004 of opinions that established e-discovery rules, is doing something about it. According to Colin Moynihan’s article, Judge Considers Pledge for Jurors on Internet Use, this month, during a hearing, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin said, “I am keenly aware that there are convictions set aside all over the country when we learn later during deliberations a juror looked up the keyword or the key name.” Attempting to avoid this in her court room, Judge Scheindlin plans to write a pledge that jurors might be required to sign. According to Moynihan’s article jurors who sign the pledge will be subject to perjury charges if they conduct independent internet investigations during the trial.

Some question why a written pledge would be successful when oral instructions have failed. Instructing jurors not to use any source outside the court room to assist in deciding any question of fact is boilerplate. In his 2009 article, As Jurors Turn to Web, Mistrials Are Popping Up, John Schwartz wrote, “Judges have long amended their habitual warning about seeking outside information during trials to include Internet searches.” Still, the number of Google Mistrials continues to grow. Apparently, Judge Scheindlin believes that jurors will be less likely to conduct independent online investigations if they affirmatively agree not to in writing. Time will tell if other judges follow suit.

To learn about actual examples of Google Mistrials, please read the following articles:

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