There is a growing concern over how the instant accessibility of information online is affecting, even threatening, the legal system. The following is a scenario that is becoming popular: Prior to a trial a prospective juror conducts a few quick Google searches of the parties involved in the trial. During the trial, evidence is presented, and the juror Googles whatever info there is regarding that evidence (even though the judge already admonished the jurors regarding this particular practice). Then, during deliberation, the juror tells another juror about what was found during the web search prior to trial and during trial. Some other jurors hear the exchange. Finally, the jury reaches its verdict, let’s say for the defense. Next, a motion is filed by the plaintiff, and the trial court sets aside the verdict, finding that one juror had introduced extrinsic evidence into deliberation that prejudiced the jury and swayed the outcome. For those of you who don’t know, extrinsic evidence includes knowledge relevant to the facts in issue not obtained through the introduction of evidence but acquired prior to trial. So, it goes without saying, that all such types of internet research by a juror prior to trial without notice to the court and counsel can lead to mistrials, which not only delays justice but furthers the cost, inconvenience and emotional stress of all parties.
The flip side of the internet’s influence over a case or trial has to do with attorneys using it to find evidence against opposing parties or information on prospective jurors. Divorce attorneys, especially, are using the internet, usually via social networking sites, to gather personal information about their client’s soon-to-be-ex and use it as leverage or as a way to cast doubt on the character of the soon-to-be ex. Also, a lawyer can check their client’s presence on the web for any information that could be used by the ex’s legal team. And when it comes to picking a jury, lawyers sometimes pay more attention to their computer screens during a voir dire than on the answers jurors are giving. Any attorney that thinks this is a good idea should consider the ethical and legal rules that may apply. Here at the Brod Law Firm we are noticing more and more how an individual’s presence on the web could potentially hurt them if they become involved in a lawsuit. It is a brave new world out there, people. Proceed with caution.