New Jersey Judiciary Addresses Attorney and Juror Use of the Internet


The increasingly prominent role that the Internet plays in American society has created both challenges and opportunities in the judicial system. On one hand, the integrity of jury trials may be threatened when jurors use the Internet to search for information relevant to the case, contact other jurors in cyberspace, or blog about the trial. On the other hand, the Internet provides a valuable tool for attorneys to obtain information regarding potential jurors. The New Jersey judiciary has recently taken some steps to address the emerging issues created by attorney and juror use of the Internet and wireless communication devices.

The Potential for Misuse

In response to the growing use of wireless communication devices and the integration of the Internet into everyday life, the New Jersey judiciary has recently amended Civil Model Jury Charge 1.11c ("Charge 1.11c") to instruct jurors not to "communicate with others about the case, either personally or through computers, cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, personal electronic and media devices or other forms of wireless communication." In addition, Charge 1.11c provides a detailed explanation for the restrictions on juror Internet usage, based on the premise that if jurors understand why they are restricted in their Internet usage during and before trial, they will be more likely to comply with the instructions. Charge 1.11c provides the following explanation for the instructions regarding juror Internet usage:

Why is this restriction imposed? You are here to decide this case based solely on the evidence – or lack of evidence – presented in this courtroom. Many of you regularly use the Internet to do research or to examine matters of interest to you. The information you are accessing is not evidence. One of the problems is that what you are examining may be wrong, incomplete, or inaccurate. That material may be outdated. Indeed, there often is no way to determine whether the information that we see on the Internet is correct. We must insist that, as a juror, you must not be influenced by any information outside of this courtroom. Otherwise, your decision may be based on material which only you, and none of your fellow jurors, know. This would unfairly and adversely impact the judicial process. We must make certain that each party has a fair opportunity to refute or explain evidence offered against it or that may be unfavorable to its case.

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