Jurors in every American jurisdiction of which we are aware are specifically warned not to conduct any research, visit the crime/incident scene, review news articles or otherwise talk to anyone about the case that is before them. Rather, they are warned that the only evidence they can consider is the evidence before them.
This admonition was probably much easier to heed before everything could be Googled and courts are now grappling with how to punish jurors who ignore the warning. In the case of State v. Montas, Judge Peter Doyne, a Bergen County, NJ trial court judged was faced with this very issue. In the criminal case, the jury foreman conducted internet research to determine how long the defendant’s punishment could be if he was sentenced (which is something criminal jurors are told they cannot consider). Based upon what he found out, he told his fellow jurors that he could not convict the defendant and a mistrial resulted. The other jurors turned him in to the judge who then conducted a criminal investigation (unsurprisingly the local DA’s office declined to prosecute). The judge found the defendant guilty of criminal contempt and issued a $500 fine – which is the first known result of this kind. One wonders whether other NJ judges will be interested in Judge Doyne’s lead – especially in civil cases – especially given how many Americans feel about jury duty.
For more information about this post, please contact Bob Cosgrove at firstname.lastname@example.org.