Juries are being picked via Facebook?
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on February 23rd, 2011
What this could mean in your legal case and what you need to know
A new trend in courtrooms across the nation includes searches being done by prosecutors and attorneys on Facebook and other social media sites of prospective jurors who are being polled for possible selection for juries in a wide range of civil and criminal cases.
Think about that for a moment.
Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and others are certainly everywhere nowadays.
We fill out our online profiles and share our intimate moments, observations and thoughts with our friends and sometimes the rest of the world, all in real time with the click of a mouse.
But have you ever thought for a moment how all of that online information about you is being used?
We’ve written previously here on the MyPhillyLawyer blog about how we all need to be more careful with the information we divulge on social media, but a story in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week opens our eyes even wider.
The story details how the smallest tidbits of information can be gleaned today from Facebook and other sites so that prosecutors, defense attorneys and plaintiff’s attorneys can uncover tiny facts that can help them determine who they want and don’t want on juries, the story reported.
“Prosecution and defense lawyers are scouring the site for personal details about members of the jury pool that could signal which side they might sympathize with during a trial,” the story said. “They consider what potential jurors watch on television, their interests and hobbies, and how religious they are.”
Wow, that certainly is opening up some cans of controversy.
On one hand, perhaps it’s not so different from the jury selection processes in the past, when attorneys on both sides are able to ask questions of potential jurors and find out what they might be thinking about a legal case. The attorneys each then get a certain number of jurors they can excuse if they don’t like their responses to their questions.
Maybe Facebook searches of potential jurors just push that system a bit farther.
But on the other side, the worry is that such online searches take information out of context. Perhaps a prospective juror made a negative or insulting comment on their Facebook page about a group of other people, but it was written sarcastically. There’s just no way to know unless they are asked about the remarks, which can certainly be done during the interview process.
The question is, however, will that additional information be sought to get to the bottom of those remarks?
At least one legal expert in the Journal story said he doesn’t like the “Internet snooping” that such online inquiries support.
Another expert in the story said such searches allow attorneys to gather more information quickly so they can gain better insights into the minds of prospective jurors in a shor time.
All of these possibilities are reasonable, but the bottom line is that we all need to understand how these things can affect our legal battles.
If you are a plaintiff whose case is about to be heard by a jury, do you want the other side to help decide the jury based on what they dig up on Facebook?
Could that help or hurt your case?
Or would you rather that jury selection interviews be done without such information, perhaps allowing jurors who might be biased onto the jury?
At the same time, there are limits to what can be learned from these kinds of Facebook searches in many cases. No one can “see” or learn much about another person if a Facebook profile is carefully controlled by its owner using the online privacy settings that are available to users. Profile privacy settings can be set tightly to keep out anyone who isn’t an approved “friend” on the sites. The settings can be changed by users, so if you aren’t sure of your profile settings, be sure to log in and set them tightly to protect your privacy.
In that case, if privacy settings are tightened, then very little information can be gathered other than a person’s name and perhaps a few other minor details such as where they live.
No one knows how this will all play out, but we at MyPhillyLawyer believe that we should all be aware of these kinds of issues in the future.
Some courts have already upheld lawyers’ rights to research jurors online in the courtroom, including one in New Jersey, according to the Journal story.
At the very least, this is an issue that we all need to consider so we can discuss it with our attorneys before a case goes to trial.
An informed client is critical in such cases.
You have the right to know about this before you ever walk into a courtroom with your attorney and before the first juror is polled.
As the field of law is constantly changing, we here at MyPhillyLawyer want you to know how it might affect you.
When losing isn’t an option, give our talented, compassionate and skilled attorneys a call.