NEW RULES REGARDING THE USE OF PERSONAL ELECTRONIC DEVICES IN THE COURTROOM BY JURORS
The increased use of personal electronic devices, often with Internet access, such as the iPhone and iPad, has raised new issues regarding their use in the courtroom. Although jurors are typically informed by the Court that they are not to access outside information to obtain or disclose any information about any case, some jurors found to have misused these devices, when confronted, expressed surprise that a ban on outside information included “looking things up on the Internet.”
The Criminal Procedural Rules Committee reported that the problems that arise with juror use of these devices are two-fold. The first danger is that a juror will use the device to conduct independent research during a trial. The second problem is the use of these devices to communicate with parties outside the courtroom, either by revealing the nature of the deliberations or other information that a juror should not divulge.
Accordingly, on July 7, 2015, upon recommendation of the Criminal Procedural Rules Committee, the PA Supreme Court adopted changes to the rules pertaining to prospective or selected jurors that will become effective in October of 2015.
The new rules provide that persons reporting for jury service are to be instructed that until their service as prospective or selected jurors is concluded, they shall not use a computer, cellular phone, or other electronic device with communication capabilities while in attendance at trial or during deliberation. Although the rules will allow these devices to be used during breaks or recesses, they cannot be used to obtain or disclose information outlined in the rules.
Specifically, prospective or selected jurors cannot use a computer, cellular phone, or other electronic device with communication capabilities, or any other method, to obtain or disclose any “information about any case” in which they have been chosen as prospective or selected jurors. “Information about the case” includes, but is not limited to, the following: (i) information about a party, witness, attorney, judge, or court officer; (ii) news reports of the case; (iii) information collected through juror research using such devices about the facts of the case; (iv) information collected through juror research using such devices on any topics raised or testimony offered by any witness; and/or (v) information collected through juror research using such devices on any other topic the juror might think would be helpful in deciding the case.
To make certain that the rules are followed, jurors will be instructed that they are required to inform the court immediately of any violation of this rule. This part of the rule creates a duty to report rule violations committed by fellow jurors. Judges are to explain the reason for these restrictions, including a statement that, in order for the jury system to work as intended, absolute impartiality on the part of the jurors is necessary. And, such impartiality is achieved by restricting the information upon which the jurors will base their decision to that which is presented in court. In essence, that impartiality is destroyed if jurors are permitted to conduct independent research with a computer, cellular phone, or other electronic device to obtain or disclose any “information about any case.”
Some jurors may elect to roll the dice and attempt to use their phone, iPad or computer in violation of the Court’s instruction. However, if a prospective or selected juror fails to comply with the rules, they could be found in contempt of court and sanctioned and/or have the electronic device that is used in violation of these rules confiscated.
In other words, if you roll the dice, you might lose your device.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER – The information contained in this article is for general guidance on the subject matter only. The application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved. Given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, and the inherent hazards of electronic communication, there may be delays, omissions or inaccuracies in information in this article. Accordingly, the information in this article is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not herein engaged in rendering legal or other professional advice and services. As such, it should NOT be used as a substitute for consultation with a McMahon & Winters Law Firm attorney. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should always consult with a McMahon & Winters Law Firm attorney.