Washington State Jury Warning Poster

Access to Information Online

In their article “Online and Wired for Justice: Why Jurors Turn to the Internet (the ‘Google mistrial’)”, The Jury Expert (Nov. 2009) Douglas L. Keene and Rita R. Handrich recount how since 2001 jurors have been going online and upsetting trials. Instances include a 2009 lengthy federal drug trial ending in a mistrial because nine jurors had done internet research. A California court excused a panel of 600 prospective jurors because several admitted doing Internet research on the case. The authors conclude that jurors, who should know better, go online because:

“. . .We live in an era when access to information is ubiquitous. We are used to having a question cross our mind and checking for the answer. We do it without thinking. And jurors do too.”

In a section entitled “Guarding Against Juror Online Research” of Trial Advocacy: Planning, Analysis and Strategy, Third Edition by Berger, Mitchell and Clark, we discuss several measures that trial lawyers can take to prevent jurors from going online to research the case.

New Poster Warning Against Internet and Electronic Communication

A Washington Courts November 21, 2011 press release discussed the problem and discussed its new prophylactic as follows:

“Starting this month, jurors in Washington courtrooms will see a new poster designed to remind jurors of their critical role in assuring a fair trial — and the importance of refraining from researching a case online or commenting on social media sites while the trial is ongoing.

“’We recognize that, in their normal 21st century lives, jurors may routinely post information about all of their activities on websites and are probably accustomed to using the internet to get quick answers to any question that might arise,’ said King County Superior Court Judge William Downing Co-Chair of the Washington State Pattern Jury Instructions Committee.

“’Because these are such natural impulses in our electronic age, jurors will benefit from a gentle reminder that their duty to provide a fair trial requires them to postpone these activities until after their trial is finished.’”

The press release goes on to state that “(T)he poster was created by the Washington Pattern Jury Instructions Committee, with private funds at no cost to taxpayers.”