High profile court cases have become staples of daytime television and prime time news programs. Viewers demand unrestricted access to the court room, hang on to every detail that trickles out from behind chamber doors and flood the internet with their opinions and armchair legal analysis. This glut of information, however, is threatening to deplete an already shrinking and essential resource: an impartial jury pool.
The sixth amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that a defendant is due a speedy and public trial and an impartial jury of their peers. The term “public trail” has evolved significantly in the Digital Age; if a case warranted a back page article in the nineteen-sixties, today it would get an hour-long special on Headline News. How can the legal system navigate a hyper connected populace that is willing and able to share their beliefs and opinions through social media and consume endless details about a case?
A Wayne State University blog post by K. Brooke Moynihan illustrates some of the hurdles that both prosecutors and defendants must overcome in order to keep the gears of justice turning:
“The problem with these types of incidents is that when jurors communicate about or research issues presented to them in a trial, they jeopardize a defendant’s 6th Amendment Constitutional right to a trial by an impartial jury.”
Water cooler talk has evolved to Facebook wall posts seen by hundreds of people at a time. A potential juror must be unbiased and unprejudiced to the particulars of an upcoming case. A juror that does not watch the news or read the papers is a rare event; even rarer is someone that does not actively engage in social media. It’s possible to not be swayed by an impersonal article by a stranger that details the facts of a case but much harder to ignore opinions posted by friends and family members, people whose opinions are valued and held dear. Is the impartial juror a relic of a bygone era?
Information Policy for Everyday Decisions. (2012, November 3). The Impact of Social Media on Juries [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.wayne.edu/informationpolicy/2012/11/03/the-impact-of-social-media-on-juries-2/