Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mining the internet in jury selection

With the widespread use of social media, it's nearly impossible for us not to leave some sort of "paper trail" in cyberspace. That is particularly true of potential jurors. With sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (among others), there is a wealth of information to be mined on those who will sit in judgment of your client.

Unfortunately, in the names of judicial economy and efficiency, courts have reduced the amount of time lawyers have to interact with potential jurors to find out about any deep-seated biases or beliefs that could be harmful to a client.

In Harris County the typical voir dire in a misdemeanor case is 20 minutes per side - then it's time for motions to strike for cause and peremptory strikes. Even though the typical jury panel is 18-24 people, that is far from enough time for attorneys to make well-informed decisions on who they don't want to sit on the panel. It certainly isn't enough time for an attorney to run each name on the jury roster through Google to see what comes up.

What's the hurry, your Honor? This case may be the only time the accused ever finds himself involved in the criminal justice system and a conviction will stick with him for life. What's the harm in allowing additional time for the attorneys to conduct voir dire? What's the harm in calling a recess to allow the attorneys time to run an internet search on each of the panelists? The accused is innocent unless proven otherwise, not the other way around, and he deserves the opportunity to make informed decisions in the courtroom.


Mark Bennett said...

In Travis County, lawyers can get juror lists a week before trial. Our excellent new District Clerk, Loren Jackson, is working on creating the same ability here.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

Thanks for the comment, Mark. I've been very impressed with what my former law school classmate has been doing in the District Clerk's office.