With technology so easily accessible nowadays, it is no surprise that the courts have been dealing with jurors utilizing technology and posting online while they perform their civic duties.
In a recent medical malpractice trial in Missouri, a juror was found to be posting on Facebook during trial. Following a defense verdict, the plaintiffs alleged that the juror, Doennig, “engaged in serious juror misconduct by violating the court’s explicit instruction prohibiting jurors from communicating or posting anything about the trial on Facebook” in a motion for a new trial. The juror admitted to knowing that he was not supposed to post during trial, but said he did it so people would know why they could not reach him.
As part of their evidence to try and get a new trial, plaintiff’s introduced the juror’s Facebook status updates from the trial. After an initial comment on Facebook saying that the juror was performing jury duty, people responded to the post asking about the case. The juror posted:
“Sworn to secrecy as the details of this case. Most importantly there is no beverage service and the 3pm cocktail hour is not observed!”
The juror’s other comments were simple updates about what day of the trial it was, etc. The last post, which went up after the trial was complete, said “civic duty fulfilled and justice served. Now where’s my cocktail????” The trial court
denied plaintiff’s motion for a new trial, finding that no details were revealed about the case that hurt either party:
The purpose of the rule against communications between jurors and third parties is to prevent the jury from receiving information about the case that is not part of the evidence in the record.
State v. Moore, 366 S.W.3d 647, 652 (Mo. App. E.D. 2012).
In analyzing whether the juror’s misconduct was extensive enough to justify a new trial, the court noted that the juror never posted any details about the case at hand, and did not even mention if it was a civil or a criminal case. The court made a comment about technology:
We now live in an age of ubiquitous electronic communications. To say the comments in this case, which simply informed people Doennig was serving jury duty, were improper simply because they were posted on Facebook would be to ignore the reality of society’s current relationship with communication technology… If they were communicated to a person face-to-face, they would not be improper.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to not grant a new trial, and at the same time, blurred the line as to what conduct is allowed by a juror in a courtroom.