November 21, 2006
The "Google" Effect on Juries
With computers everywhere one has to expect that jurors are likely to be looking for answers to their questions on the web. The problem here is that the jury is supposed to limit their deliberation to what is contained in the trial and that which is provided to them by the court.
In the Siegelman/Scrushy trial this question may prove interesting. According to the Montgomery Advertiser (AP) here the jury may have downloaded copies of the indictment and one juror may have used a home computer to learn about the fore-person's role on a jury.
The problem now becomes whether their investigation and downloading tainted their deliberation. After questioning the jurors and finding no influence, the court has ordered both parties to brief the issue. Clearly the court is looking to see if this is was prejudicial to the defendant or merely harmless error. One question that may prove interesting is whether the materials downloaded replicated what was given to them by the court. If the material contained excess items that the jury had not been privy to during the trial, the question will be whether that material was prejudicial. Although the government has the burden here (See Remmer v. United States, 347 U.S. 227 (1954)) ( al.com here), it may not be a difficult burden for them to meet.
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