Jury trials are providing vivid examples of how difficult -- and important -- it is to manage technologies, organizational practice, and people all at the same time. This example comes from Jason Schwartz' article, Mistrial by iPhone: Jurors’ Web Forays Are Upending Trials.
The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges.Last week, a building products company asked an Arkansas court to overturn a $12.6 million judgment against it after a juror used Twitter to send updates during the civil trial.
Schwartz notes that the judges are giving instructions, but the instructions are not sticking: "Judges have long amended their habitual warning about seeking outside information during trials to include Internet searches. But with the Internet now as close as the juror’s pocket, the risk has grown more immediate — and instinctual." He reports that while some courts are controlling use of cellphones during the day, most are not -- and unless the jury is sequestered, there is always the computer at home. Douglas L. Keene, president of the American Society of Trial Consultants is quoted on the importance of explaining to jurors why the rules are important -- in my terms, to help them make sense of the overall issues: technology -- yes, you have access to information outside the court; organizational practice -- the rules of evidence are foundational to our justice system; and people -- it is your moral, sworn duty to abide by given jury instructions. You can't change just one thing, and success isn't even guaranteed if you adopt an approach that is aware of how technology, organizational practice, and human behavior are intertwined. Solid implementation practice can be a glue to hold critical ideas and actions together. Granted implementation is always difficult, and more so when the relationships are as fleeting as in a trial, but it appears that even more effort needs to be taken in these settings. I'll assume that pre-Information Age jurors largely abided by the rules around seeking out and sharing information about the trial. Now that it has become "instinctive" to search the Internet for information relevant to our lives, courts will have to find more effective ways to get jurors on-board with following the rules. I expect that jury research experts are working on finding the most powerful approach (my quick search of Google and Findlaw.com didn't uncover anything specific). This needs to be something that can fully engender understanding of the importance of following jury instructions and so hopefully overcome the juror's basic motivation, opportunity, and ability to search for information on his or her own. More: Keeping Information Age Jurors' Attention Not a new issue, and not just about U.S. law: The Internet and the Right to a Fair Trial. Address by the Honourable J J Spigelman AC, Chief Justice of New South Wales, to the 6th World Wide Common Law Judiciary Conference, Washington, DC, June 2005