If you’re headed to jury duty anytime soon, please know that your “tweets” and Facebook posts may have some new followers. You probably have never met these people, but they sure want to learn all about you…from your age and gender to your thoughts and opinions. Sound intrusive? Well maybe, but the American Bar Association (ABA) has recently decided that lawyers can snoop on a juror’s social media sites.
The ABA Ruling
According to the ABA, it’s now ethical for lawyers to view and examine the publicly available social media posts of prospective and actual jurors. This means a juror’s personal information given out on blog posts, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc., can all be viewed by an attorney to aid in his selection of an unbiased jury. The only firm restriction to this new practice is that attorneys cannot actively friend, follow or otherwise gain access to potential or actual jurors via private internet spaces.
Why Do Your Social Media Sites Matter?
As jurors, American citizens have a power that almost goes unmatched. In the personal injury context, they determine such things as: what party was at fault for an accident, the reasonableness of a damage award, and the exact amount an injured person should receive in compensation. Consider just compensation for a moment. Depending on the facts of a case, jurors have the power to place millions of dollars in the hands of an injured plaintiff, or, they can refuse these funds altogether via one single vote.
Attorneys are aware of these powers. This is why attorneys place so much time, energy and resources into trying to pick “the right” jury. Attorneys want a jury that will likely agree with their interpretation of a legal case. In essence, they want to capture the power of a jury and convert it into a favorable outcome for their client(s).
How does an attorney know that a juror will agree with his interpretation of a case? The attorney has to try and understand a juror. He has to learn of his background, gender, age, ethnicity, views, opinions, etc. To date, this information has been gathered via questionnaires and a process involving face-to-face questions in court. But, now we have social media.
A person active on social media sites places a wealth of information into the public domain. For example, a quick examination of a person’s Facebook page/posts can reveal that person’s:
- Marital status
- Education level
- Hobbies and interests
- Parenting status
- Views on controversial topics such as gun control, abortion and same sex marriage
An attorney can use all of this information to help ensure he has a juror on his jury panel that will likely agree with his client. Once again, this information empowers the attorney with the power already vested within juries. In short, your personal media sites matter because they assist an attorney in his calculations as to whether you’d be a good juror or not. “Good” here means a person that would side with his client.
Is this Really Ethical?
The ABA’s recent determination might startle several people. Any concept of snooping naturally sounds suspicious for many of us. Factor in the private information that we may tend to reveal via tweets and Facebook posts and now we may even grow upright alarmed.
As the issue currently stands, social media snooping on a juror is now an accepted practice for attorneys. What are your thoughts? Do you find this practice too intrusive? Or, should it be fair game considering that social media posts are publicly available? As a firm committed to justice, we want to hear your opinions. Did the ABA create an injustice or will its decision help further justice?