Are Internet-Enabled Smartphones Bringing Down Our Judicial System?

Such is the premise of a NYTimes piece today, which identifies a rampant increase in declared mistrials due to jurors contaminating themselves with internet research into the case—sometimes from their phones, in the courtroom.

It's something we take for granted, but one of the major premises of our judicial system is that jurors cannot subject themselves to any information about the trial or its involved parties that isn't specifically presented to them by the plaintiffs or the defendants themselves. Back in the olden days, that wasn't such a huge problem, as good citizens on jury duty weren't likely to break off to head to the libary to research the intricacies of corporate law. Nor were they publishing their thoughts every few minutes to the greater world.

But that's exactly what may reverse a $12.6 million judgment in Arkansas because juror
Jonathan Powell was found to have Twittered details of the trial:

oh and nobody buy Stoam. Its bad mojo and they'll probably cease to Exist, now that their wallet is 12m lighter

So Johnathan, what did you do today? Oh nothing really, I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else's money.

This is just one of several cases used to illustrate the greater trend, and all involve direct access to Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and other research tools. And unfortunately, there is no immediate solution, as judges can't define exactly what jurors cannot do (in the same way you can't tell a child to NOT eat that delicious bucketful of dirt).

The whole topic is something I never would have thought of, but indeed does make perfect sense. [NYTimes]