What happened when Google, Facebook and LinkedIn Second Sat Me
This spring the American Bar Association ethics committee formally approved of the practice of investigating jurors and prospective jurors using social media. That is Googling jurors during voir dire is legit. Here’s how it worked during a recent felony trial in Brooklyn.
I recruited two lawyers from my office to sit in the front row during jury selection. As the clerk called out the names of the panel to be questioned, my team dutifully noted them down, as well as the apparent age and race of the prospective jurors. While the judge was asking the jurors preliminary questions about residence and occupation, my confederates ducked into the hallway and did some fast and furious Googling on their personal iPads. (What? You didn’t think PD offices sprung for tablets, did you?) Once they had gone through all 16 of the prospective jurors, they re-entered the courtroom. Sometime during the prosecutor’s voir dire or just before mine, they subtly handed me a plain manilla folder. Inside were the scribbled notes describing the social media tracks left behind by the citizens of Brooklyn seated before me. No one questioned that a colleague was passing an innocuous folder to me during trial.
The two attorneys who helped me, used Google as well as Facebook and LinkedIn to research the jurors. Note, the New York City Bar Association ethics committee has held that “following” a juror on Twitter, or looking them up while you’re logged into LinkedIn is problematic. This is because Twitter and LinkedIn send notices to the users when they are being “followed” or looked up, and that’s considered unauthorized communication. Before entering names in the search field in your jurisdiction, check out the relevant rulings of your local bar association ethics committee. Some are summarized in this Huffington Post article.
Here’s some of what we uncovered:
The college application essay of one juror speaking favorably of George W. Bush’s policies in Iraq including the invasion;
A quiet upper middle class juror had “liked” Occupy Wall Street on Facebook;
One juror was rated as an extremely harsh grader on a teacher rating website; and
Another was a board member of a church.
Unfortunately, my team was unable to screen for jurors who find high definition video evidence of my client wielding a knife unconvincing. We still need an app for that.