April 21, 2021

US Judges propose fines to keep jurors off social media

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Cropped shot of a group of businesspeople using their digital devices while seated around a table

Cropped shot of a group of businesspeople using their digital devices while seated around a table

By Cheryl Miller, The Recorder

SACRAMENTO — For years, state judges have struggled with how to handle jurors who just cannot stay away from Twitter, Facebook and Google while performing their civic duty. Despite admonitions from officials, there are regular media reports of jury pools being excused or cases being appealed because someone couldn’t resist blogging about courtroom action or looking up news about a defendant.

In 2011, the governor signed Judicial Council-backed legislation clarifying that judges have the authority to hold in contempt jurors who ignore judge’s warnings and research cases online or post details about an ongoing case. In 2014, judges asked the Legislature to repeal the law. It seems the misdemeanor threat to wayward jurors caused some unanticipated constitutional quandaries. Judges who wanted to investigate accusations of juror misconduct had to be mindful of that juror’s right not to self-incriminate. Prosecutors could offer jurors immunity, but that had the potential to give one party in an ongoing case the appearance of unfair leverage.

So the Judicial Council this year has sold lawmakers, so far, on a new approach. Assembly Bill 2101 would create a pilot program to test whether giving judges the power to fine tweeting jurors up to $1,500 curbs the bad behavior.

“Giving judicial officers the option to impose reasonable money sanctions on jurors will prevent delays in cases over minor juror misconduct, while also allowing a judicial officer an additional tool to protect the integrity of the case at hand,” argues a fact sheet distributed by the bill’s author, Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park. “It will also provide judicial officers with a less burdensome alternative to formal contempt proceedings.”

Under the bill, the Judicial Council would recruit several courts of varying sizes from various parts of the state to test the provisions and report back with the results in 2021.

AB 2101 passed out of the Assembly on Thursday and is now heading to the Senate for further action

For more on this story go to: http://www.therecorder.com/id=1202757066263/Judges-Propose-Fines-to-Keep-Jurors-Off-Social-Media#ixzz48GKNcnn7

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