The use of smart phones grows everyday. What used to be the size of a brick (with about the same reception) is now smaller than a wallet and capable of handling multiple e-mail accounts, surfing the web, performing google searches, browsing documents and even doing legal research. Through e-mail and mobile social networking sites like facebook and twitter – we can instantly have access to friends and relatives and their expertise. While that kind of power is a wonderful tool to have in everyday life, there is one place where instant access to information is banned: the jury room.
In the jury room, jurors are supposed the weight the evidence they hear from the witness stand, apply it to the law as relayed to them by the judge, and render a verdict. Outside information and influence is strictly prohibited. The courts have traditionally been very slow to respond the existence of new technology, but in recognition of the prevalence of smart phones and their instant access to information, the Courts have now amended their instruction to juries about discussing the case with others. That instruction is found in New York’s Pattern Jury Instructions at PJI 1.11 as follows:
PJI 1:11. Discussion With Others – Independent Research
In fairness to the parties to this lawsuit, it is very important that you keep an open mind
throughout the trial. Then, after you have heard both sides fully, you will reach your
verdict only on the evidence as it is presented to you in this courtroom, and only in this
courtroom, and then only after you have heard the summations of each of the attorneys
and my instructions to you on the law. You will then have an opportunity to exchange
views with each member of the jury during your deliberations to reach your verdict.
Please do not discuss this case either among yourselves or with anyone else during the
course of the trial. Do not do any independent research on any topic you might hear about
in the testimony or see in the exhibits, whether by consulting others, reading books or
magazines or conducting an internet search of any kind. All electronic devices including
any cell phones, Blackberries, iphones, laptops or any other personal electronic devices
must be turned off while you are in the courtroom and while you are deliberating after I
have given you the law applicable to this case. [In the event that the court requires the jurors to relinquish their devices, the charge should be modified to reflect the court’s practice]
It is important to remember that you may not use any internet services, such as Google,
Facebook, Twitter or any others to individually or collectively research topics concerning
the trial, which includes the law, information about any of the issues in contention, the
parties, the lawyers or the court. After you have rendered your verdict and have been
discharged, you will be free to do any research you choose, or to share your experiences,
either directly, or through your favorite electronic means.
For now, be careful to remember these rules whenever you use a computer or other
personal electronic device during the time you are serving as a juror but you are not in the
While this instruction may seem unduly restrictive, it is vital that you carefully follow these
So – if you are called to serve on a jury, please be ready to heed the judge’s instructions. Failure to do so will result in you being removed from the jury, and may require a mistrial, which means the lawyers would be required to re-try the case. Also, don’t be surprised if the judge asks you to surrender your smart phone!
Thanks for reading,
Adam M. Gee, Esq.
NY and PA Injury Attorney
The Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY 14901