Monday, December 14, 2009


The Baltimore Sun is reporting that local judges are dealing with the problem of smart phone technology and social networking as it relates to keeping jurors insulated from news accounts and social media sites like Facebook. 

Recently, Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon was prosecuted for bribery and embezzlement as it related to the taking and use of "gift cards" from a former boyfriend/developer that were variously said to have been donated for the needy.  She was convicted of misdemeanor embezzlement and is due to be sentenced January 15th.  In a motion for a new trial, Dixon is citing to juror misconduct that included 5 jurors "friending" one another on Facebook, during the trial and talking about the case online.  Ouch.

Here's the deal, when you are selected for jury duty, your entire focus is supposed to be on the testimony and evidence, what the Judge allows you to hear and consider, not what you develop outside of the courtroom.  That jurors are talking about the case among themselves and others is jury msiconduct.  That smartphones and social networking sites facilitate this is a real problem.  Sounds to me like Mayor Dixon is going to get a new trial.

For more:,0,2858534.story


  1. It sounds to me like this is yet another argument for professional jurors. People clearly don't understand what it means to perform this civic duty. And jurors often tend to be people who are less educated, have fewer professional obligations, etc. I know this sounds snobbish and undemocratic--I'd like to hear your thoughts about juries, since you obviously know a lot more about the institution and its (ability to) function. Some European countries, as I understand it, have professional jurors.

  2. Professional jurors raise the same problem as professional witnesses. They approach a case not from their personal idiosyncracies, but from some preconceived notion of fairness.
    That is not the way our system was ever designed to work.

    The earliest use of professional jurors was the practice of having 'chambers' of the court act as fact finders and render judgments on peasant complaints against the king.

    The outcome of that system was truly the golden rule---he who has the gold, rules.

    We fought against that tyranny exactly for the reason that professional jurors are a bad idea.

    It is better to have a 'poor' decision from a common person due to their lack of knowledge, than a 'good' decision from a professional due to their preconceived outcomes.

    The end result in cases handled by lay jurors is overwhelmingly the right outcome. The system really works.


  3. I thought I had left this follow up comment to Patrick's but it does not show up, so if somehow in cyberspace two comments show up here from me then you'll know why.

    I think Patrick really nails the historical imperative for the development of a "jury of one's peers" but that doesn't end the frustratio we all feel and lay people in particular feel when a jury "nullifies" the law or evidence as in the OJ murder trial; or some runaway jury gives millions to a lady who spills hot McDonald's coffee on themselves. But Patrick is absolutely right, for every anecdotal situation where a jury is too-stupid-to-live, you can see a thousand situations where "professional jurists" get it wrong--our Judges.

    One of the really alarming aspects of trial law in the last two decades is the increasing "activism" of trial judges in removing from the jury's consideration legal matters that should be submitted to the jury. This occurs through the over implementation of Rule 56 proceedings, and to a lesser extent Rule 12(b) dismissals. What Rule 56 does is permit a "an affidavit and document trial" and the Judge rules on whether as a matter of law based on the facts a reasonable jury would ever find for one of the parties in a dispute. If the Judge, with all of his biases and prejudices decides the case should go away, the case goes away and a jury never decides the lawsuit. Even after a jury verdict a Judge has a mechanism for taking away a jury verdict that he or she disagrees with.

    So we do have professional jurors, we call them judges and they routinely upend the system with decisions that are too-stupid-to-be-believed--as I attempt to document, here.


  4. thanks to both of you. I now see the light--I guess I was partly disgruntled because it seems to me that really qualified people sometimes (often) weasel out of jury duty...not me, of course. Never been called...yet.