Technology Tipping The Scales Of Justice?

By Bla1ze on 19 Mar 2009 05:59 am EDT
Technology Tipping The Scales Of Justice?

In these days where social media and technology are ever growing on a daily basis there are still certain situations in which said technology is still not really welcomed with open arms, despite it being all around us. One of those places is in courtroom proceedings. Now we all know that courtrooms require you to not bring in cameras and recording technology, but these days it's tough to even find a cell phone that does not have a camera built into it. Yes, there have been rumors of an 8900 Curve coming without one as well, and the BlackBerry Bold that launched in Japan doesn't have one either, but that's straying from the story a little.

The New York Times has an article from a few days ago where it documents some cases where jurors and other legal proceeding participants were caught using their mobile devices to do such things as posting to Twitter, researching information relevant to the cases in which they were on the jury. Jurors are not supposed to seek out information beyond what is provided to them in the court proceedings so things like using Twitter and researching information are strictly prohibited. So now we have three court cases pending at this point, including a $12 million dollar case at risk of a mistrial, all because people cannot break free of their tech habits. What do ya think, will this be an ongoing issue as technology evolves or are these rare cases? Sound off.

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Reader comments

Technology Tipping The Scales Of Justice?


In today's society it is seemingly becoming more and more acceptable to be using one's cell phone in places that one would think would be "off limits." Personally I work for a national cell phone provider so my livelihood is based on selling handsets and plans to consumers. I have not however lost sight of what should be appropriate use of cell phones while in a public setting. Restaurants, golf course, movie theaters, and more recently court rooms are not places where cell phone use should be made apparent. Of course there are people who need their phones for work but if a phone call is necessary then it is their social responsibility to be out of earshot during their conversation.

The reasoning is simple, it is downright rude to subject the people around you to your conversation when they cannot avoid it. What I mean is, if we are both in a park I can easily get up and move if I don't want to listen to your mouth flap, but in a restaurant I am limited to my seat and want to focus on the conversation I am having, not yours. Especially if the conversation goes something like this: "What? No I can't hear you! I'm out to dinner what's up? What? What?" These people find it necessary to yell into the handset because the person on the other end can't hear them either.

Another thing that really bothers me about the way people are using their phones is that if we are engaged in a conversation, don't answer the phone unless it is something important or something that you had been expecting. That's just rude, That says to me that our conversation is much less important than the one you might have on the phone with someone else... Including a tele-marketer. Same goes for text messaging, it drives me nuts when I am talking to someone and they stop me to reply to a text message! WTF?

Have some respect for the people around you. Recently I attended a hockey game with my wife and my brother in law. They each sat on either side of me. Neither one of them set their phones down the whole game because they were not only text messaging other people, but they were also text messaging... wait for it.... each other! Then, when something happened they would break away from their phones to ask me what had happened. I should have been getting paid as an announcer because it seemed like that was all I did the whole night.

All I am really trying to say is that there is a time and a place to use a cell phone for whatever purpose. Be aware of the people around you because honestly, no one else cares about what you have to say. This deal with the court room just proves that there is lack of social responsibility when it comes to using a cell phone. People are just not aware of the fact that what they are doing isn't right. It's not trigonometry, it's common sense and a respect for other people.

I agree with you completely, except for the part about being at a hockey game the other night. I wasn't there.

Well spoken, well written, well thought-out. Good post, your employer should be proud to have you on staff. (Appreciated that you didn't drop their name, btw.)

this may be slightly off topic, but I am a Firefighter/Paramedic and this very concern was addressed at a meeting the other day about using cell phones while on a call. I have Epocrates Rx on my BB which is wonderful, but WE all must think before we whip our cells out and start typing in search for information. Because in the public eye it could be view as unprofessional. So as for in the court room, TURN them off!!!

You don't need to have your cell in the court room. It's not like you are going to be in the courtroom for the rest of your life. Simple rule to follow and its sad to see that some people have an issue following it. Some courtrooms fine you if you are caught using a cell; i think all courtroom should do the same.
Having a ring tone go off or someone blabbing on the phone is a big distraction; plus information about the case can be leaked. Beside if your that hell bent on getting a recording or a vid of the a trial; ware a secret recording device. They cost about the same price of a cellphone.

As a reporter for the Lawton Constitution in Oklahoma, I covered the courts for about five years. I don't know whether it was state law or specific to the district I covered, but all jurors were required to check their cell phones with the bailiff. There's a system in place to notify jurors of any family emergencies that might arise and phones, especially smart phones, can be a distraction to the jury.
Some judges allowed note taking and others in the district forbid it, for the same reasons as taking cell phones.
While "12 Angry Men" made a strong case for outside research by jurors, the courts generally discourage or outright forbid it because their decision is supposed to be made based on evidence presented (or not), their perspective (based on their life experiences) and their shared "common sense."
Personally, I support the courts' right to hold onto our phones while we are performing jury duty.
As for the gallery, so long as they're not ringing or flashing or otherwise distracting the proceedings, I'm all for families, friends and interested parties using their cell phones.

While remaining vague enough to remain anonymous, I will admit I am guilty of doing this on a recent trial, but on a much higher profile case (near 2 billion cross suit, that ultimately awarded shy of half billion). I wasnt twittering, but I was BBM'ing friends, and more importantly, was checking google news results for the trial (I work for a news org, 2nd nature I guess), as well as reading back story reports.
Honestly, the rules were vague and unenforced. I was doing it on breaks and not during my time in the box, so it didnt seem like a big deal. In retrospect, oops?
Frankly, it was USbanking scum V Eurocorporate scum, so I still dont give much of a hoot.
I didnt want to be there, they wanted me to be there.

I think that it will always be an issue AND always has. It's just been brought to light by these recent trials. Personally I know that trials are biased and what you can find out there is usually more appropriate and relevant to the case than what is actually being presented. Maybe the courts are afraid they won't be needed anymore???

From my past experience serving as a juror, we were not allowed to bring any cell phone into the court room. I don't even think we were allowed to use them in the juror break room. I find it surprising that anyone can use their phone at all in the court room.

That being said, if the case extends to multiple day procedings, jurors can return home and twitter/access the internet anyway they want (they obviously shouldn't). If the ban of using phones is to keep jurors' focus on the case testimony only, that's extremely hard to achieve. The responsibility is solely in the hands of the jurors to judge on each case based on the testimonies given.

it coming to confiscations if this habit persists. i'm on jury duty (not active at the moment) but i leave my phone in the car while in the courtroom.

Simple, all courtrooms and chambers should be enclosed in a faraday cage. This should have been done a long time ago to be honest as there have probably been several instances of jurors texting or emailing people when they shouldn't have been.

I don't disagree, but people will whine about their "rights," blah, blah, blah. I love how people are always whining about their "rights," but there is never a mention of their "responsibilities."

As a computer tech at a law firm, I have to go into court rooms on occasion to setup AV equipment for presentations. When we get to the court house, they take our blackberry devices away and return them to us as we leave due to the fact that they have cameras on them. I say they should just take all cell phones away from everyone as they enter and return them when you leave. Issue resolved.

I don't agree with the court systems not letting you research and look into it more than what the lawyers are telling you. I mean they are lawyers, it's not like they are known to be the most truthful of people.

I think it's good this is happening and encourage it to happen more, research, update make a decision not based on what a shady lawyer might be telling you.

There is a reason that they tell you what they tell you. Your job as a juror is to make your decision BASED ON WHAT YOU ARE TOLD IN THE COURTROOM! It is NOT your job to play investigator. The facts not in evidence are not in evidence because the judge ruled them out or because neither side found them relevent to the case. It's not up to you to determine what other info you can find out about the case.
It really doesn't matter what you think about lawyers or what you may think is a 'good idea'. It's wrong. If you were supposed to know that information they would've given it to you in the trial.

It isn't against your will. You are a member of the citizenry, and as such have implicitly entered into a social contract with your fellow citizens. One stipulation of said social contract is that you will perform your civic duty when called upon. Ergo, you will be a juror if and when you are needed.

If you don't want to be a juror, you are welcome and encouraged to go to a country where no such position exists, but good luck getting a fair trial.

It's good to see that most comments here recognize the spirit behind the rules. There's no place for abusing this technology in a courtroom.

tnewton3, you're entitled to your opinion, but you should consider carefully godessnyki's reply.

RevDaniel, I hope for your sake that you're merely telling tall tales. If your story is true, your actions may be grounds for reopening the case you were involved in. Yikes!

Things are just going to have to change. "Jury Duty" is going to have to require more from the participants. We are living in an age where information is more accessible than ever. If judicial courts want the jurors to only know what the court presents before them, the jurors must be isolated during the duration of the case.

Are the jurors that stupid?* Why do something to negate their time spent in a court case? Why did they ignore the judge's instructions? It seems to me at the very least they could be cited for contempt.

*Never mind I answered my own question...

I have to say, it is not just that people cannot break free of their tech habits, but some have worried about jury boredom. There was an article a while ago on the legal websites, where a multi-million dollar case was at stake, and it was discovered during the trial that instead of paying attention, about 4-5 jurors were playing sudoku. A

Why do jurors even have cell phones in the court room? I think all electronics, of any kind, should be forfeited when you walk in the court room.

There is definitely a need for BBs without a digital camera. There is a DoD/government facility near where I live that refurbishes tanks, and I heard that a worker was FIRED on the spot when he was spotted with his new camera-phone. There are situations, such as this one, where the risk of a camera-phone cannot be tolerated, and a smartphone in a courtroom is also inappropriate.