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The Use of Social Media in Pre-Trial Investigation of Prospective Jurors

One of the most important aspects of a criminal trial is the voir dire procedure, a process by which jurors are selected before a trial begins to ensure that the defendant’s case will be heard by a panel of his impartial peers. The procedure requires that each prospective juror be asked a series of questions to ascertain whether the juror has any preexisting relationship to either party, has an interest in the outcome of the case, or may be biased due to his or her past history. For example, a defense attorney who is defending a defendant charged with rape will be sure that no one on the jury had a relationship with the alleged victim or had a specific bias against the defendant due to an unrelated matter. The voir dire procedure is not a perfect solution, as not all biases and conflicts of interest will be automatically obvious at the outset of the case.

Florida’s Post-Verdict Investigation Law

If it becomes apparent at the beginning, middle, or post-verdict of the trial that one of the jurors was either untruthful about his bias against the defendant, then grounds for a mistrial may be present. Florida permits post-verdict investigation of jurors to ensure that none of the jurors lied about any conflicts of interest or biases against the defendant. In the past, private investigators were hired to determine whether grounds for a mistrial based on a juror’s bias were present. Now, at the center of the debate, a Pinellas Circuit Court judge has suggested that pre-trial social media investigations of prospective jurors should be permitted to help screen out biased jurors.

The Use of Social Media in Pre-Trial Investigations

The possibility of pre-trial investigations of jurors’ social media profiles could be the newest strategy to ensure impartial juries. This would be especially helpful in cases where the juror never intended to lie during the voir dire but provided inaccurate responses to the question either because they did not know the answer or misunderstood the question. Florida courts have stated that even if a juror never intended to lie, if he provided misinformation unintentionally, a defendant may still have grounds for a mistrial.

The Controversy behind the Use of Social Media

The ability to pre-screen jurors by reviewing their social media could be highly controversial as it may be seen as an affront to their rights of privacy. To include the use of social media websites and jurors’ profiles, legislation would be needed to ensure that the scope of the search was limited solely to the information required in a voir dire. However, the use of this investigation technique could also have the effect of curbing mistrials and curbing losing parties from trying to invoke a mistrial so that the defendant could get a “second bite of the apple.” Also, using social media, depending on the information that could be acquired about the juror, could be less invasive than a private investigator tracking the associations and movements of a juror post-verdict.

Either way, the investigation of jurors’ social media profiles will help to limit the number of biased jurors from being empanelled, and would have the effect of providing defendants more protection during their trial.

Impartial Trials are a Right

It is within a defendant’s rights to receive a trial by his peers and have the jury be impartial. Techniques that promote an impartial jury and limit the number of potential biased jurors should be encouraged and espoused in our society to make sure that defendants are protected from unconstitutional practices. If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense, please contact Fort Lauderdale based KevinJ. Kulik who will be able to guide you through the legal process and provide more information about the rights that are owed to you.

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