Jury duty could pose a significant challenge for some bloggers

I recently got a questionnaire about eligibility for jury duty.  In fact, because I will be moving to an adjacent county very soon, the event is probably moot point.

States vary in the frequency registered voters are summoned for potential jury duty.  But typically many states are coming to a “one day one trial” concept, which, for example, Texas has followed for years. Less frequent is the possibility of jury duty for a federal trial.

Juror conduct has long been a subject of controversy, as can be seen from this US Courts Manual. Jurors are not allowed to discuss a case of subject matter related to a case outside the courtroom, or “research” it, even in newspapers.  In the past twenty years, the likelihood of finding related material on the World Wide Web or through social media sites has obviously increased exponentially.  The AP has a major story in the Los Angeles Times in April 2016 on the problem.

In a cursory look at the problem, I didn’t find any evidence that most juror duty episodes wind up with jurors being required to cut off all Internet access.  But if you think about it, the likelihood of this sort of the thing in the future seems to increase. It is true that most actual cases are obscure and are likely to be unknown to a juror and not obviously conspicuous even on the Internet.

The greatest danger, of course, is sequestration, which is pretty rare, although it may happen more frequently in the future, given the controversy of many cases. Changes in venue could become more common, but one could argue that Internet coverage makes venue change less effective.

However, if a juror is denied all Internet access for a significant time, he or she can face significant losses, such as even of social media accounts or followers or even of hosted accounts if not able to respond to a problem, and if not having an employee or proxy person who can handle questions (I do not).

People can get out of duty if old enough (in some states, over 70), or if having sole custody of minors or disabled persons, or if the sole person with certain work responsibilities.  Blogging alone, even given the risk to it, would not qualify unless it paid its own way.

But a news blogger could possibly “ get out” of being selected in a voir dire by having blogged in the pst about the subject matter.  An interesting, if evasive, strategy.

This is an area where the fundamental right to a fair trial can live in tension with free speech.

(Posted: Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)