Seven years ago, I asked an anonymous online poll for those who had been jurors if they looked online at the people they were judging and the answer was, IIRC, about 65% said they did – even though they had been told not to (Ten years before that, the answer was 4%.) and that answer skewed heavily towards the under-40s and desktops.
Tried it again earlier this year and the answer was a little different: 95% look up the accused and it’s mostly on mobile phones. The outlying 5% was from the above 60s but it wasn’t that they couldn’t Google the accused – they didn’t want to, because you aren’t meant to do that sort of thing. So hey, yay law-abiding pensioners.
Duff stat: 95% of jurors break law by Googling accused
Here’s the thing: you aren’t meant to Google the accused (or search on anything for them – it’s why there are heavy restrictions around court reporting) to ensure that the accused get a fair trial. Juries are supposed to only work with the evidence that they hear in court and come to a conclusion based only – and only – on the evidence. Not what the accused wears, how he or she speaks, what football team they support or anything else at all. The evidence.
Now, speaking from experience and speaking to others, I would say that happens – at best – 50% of the time and the rest is often filled in by subconscious bias and selective interpretation of presented evidence.
What there is no denying is that, an online search could utterly hammer some people’s chances of a fair trial.
Five ways online can influence a jury or juror’s thinking
- You might read previous newspaper articles about them
- You may see their social media profiles and posts
- You may see websites about them (or created by them)
- You may see (subjective) posts about them posted by others
- You may see posts by other people involved in the court case
All of these things can potentially nudge a juror one way or another so there’s a very clear conflict there.
Can the digital (anti-fair trial) genie be put back in the bottle?
I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong there’s always been some risks around being a member of the jury in the area you live (or live near) and, if you spot any potential conflict of interest, you are meant to inform the court at the start. But a pre-existing conflict of interest isn’t the same as going and searching out someone’s details online after the case has started.
The only potential way round it that I can think of is some form of potential block or monitoring tool on the devices people have – and that would cause a fury but it’s better than the idea of courts trying to get people to surrender phones, tablets, laptops, desktops and so on to prevent rogue searches.
The other option is to have jurors move in to monitored accommodation for the duration of the jury and make it that their wifi router filters out certain keywords. However, that doesn’t deal with 3G/4G or the fact that suddenly those available for jury would decrease at an incredible rate because not everyone can move into a new home away from their loved ones for a lengthy period of time.
On top of that, there’s another issue here. Lawyers are missing an incredible trick here – and have been for years. Should lawyers offer SEO and PPC services to clients?
(Unscientific Poll Data: Around 100 people surveyed in the late-90s, 2009 and 2016 via an online poll on various forums/social media networks. All those who said they were jurors were based in the UK. The poll was anonymous, there was no asking or collection of data, no proof of being a juror was provided or asked for and no details of their case were asked for. The questions were: 1) Did you look up the accused online after you joined the trial? 2) What is your age? 3) How did you look them up? 4) Was it a UK trial? All data was wiped afterwards.)