In this age of Internet technology and increasingly-popular social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn, gathering information on individuals within any given jury pool is both easier and, at the same time, more complex. Collecting information on potential jurors now expands far beyond the “postcards” traditionally submitted to the court. While questionnaires provide valuable knowledge, particularly when crafted to ascertain case-specific attitudes and experiences, a recent encounter has clearly revealed the importance of “digging deeper” and utilizing the information jurors often provide about themselves via the Internet, whether it be on these social sites or through other posts (e.g., blogging). And while online social networking sites require their members to be somewhat technologically savvy, we have found that the growing population of jury eligibles profiled on these sites goes beyond the stereotypical, twenty-something demographic.
In the Fall of 2007, Litigation Insights was involved in the jury selection for a manufacturer in a personal injury case. The selection process, including completion of a thorough written supplemental juror questionnaire and voir dire, spanned several days. During this time, a potential juror spent his “free time” blogging and expressing his opinions about the process. For example, this juror offered the following remarks online:
“Still sitting for jury duty crap. Hating it immensely. Plz don’t pick me, plz don’t pick me…” 03:50 PM October 01, 2007
“Public wifi in the courthouse kinda blows. Actually, it really blows.” 02:58 PM October 02, 2007
“More like Jury DEpreciation Month! So this is Purgatory, eh.” 02:49 PM October 03, 2007
“Thanks to the judge and court for their good sense of humor. WiFi was working perfectly before I left.” 09:58 AM October 04, 2007
While searching for information on the potential jurors based on a response given via the supplemental juror questionnaire, Litigation Insights and members of the trial team became aware of this juror’s remarks and, ultimately, he was questioned by the judge about his blogging and related jury-service attitudes. After the defense attorneys made their cause arguments, the judge dismissed this juror from the panel.
This process and outcome highlights the importance of looking beyond the traditional sources of information to the myriad sites on the Internet where many from the pools of potential jurors spend their time. And while levels of knowledge about, and comfort with, the Internet vary, it nonetheless remains important to query jury eligibles (via a supplement juror questionnaire or in voir dire) about their online habits. For example:
- How many hours per week do you spend on the Internet?
- What are your three most frequently-visited sites?
- Do you have a profile or account on a site like MySpace, Facebook, Classmates, LinkedIn or anything similar? How long have you been a member of this site? How often do you visit the site? How often do you update your personal page or profile?
- Do you blog, keep an online journal or otherwise share your opinions via posts on a website? Through which formats/sites? For how long have you been doing this? How often do you update your blog or online journal?
- Other than your own, if you have one, what are your three most frequently-visited blogs or online journals?
- Have you posted anything online, in a blog or other format, about your service here (this week/these past few days, etc.)?
- Have you read/posted anything online about this type of litigation? About this specific case?
While these topics are important to cover during voir dire, it is also important to add similar probes to your supplemental juror questionnaires. If such a questionnaire is utilized at trial, the information gleaned serves as a “double-check” for jurors’ voir dire responses and, in instances where judges limit voir dire, the written responses may provide that critical “tip” in need of further investigation.
While the judge in our case was careful not to specifically state that this juror was dismissed for cause, it was clear this jurors’ comments concerned the judge to the point that he dismissed him. Adding searches of social networking sites and blogs to your jury selection investigation may prove fruitful in gaining a cause strike while, at the same time, saving a precious peremptory strike for a more troubling juror.
By: Merrie Jo Pitera, Ph.D., CEO and Stephanie Cox, M.A., Senior Consultant