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An update on online research of potential jurors

Friday, August 23, 2013
posted by Douglas Keene

online researchOur friend Charli Morris pointed us to an article published by the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association focused on the online research of potential jurors. In the article, Matt Wetherington discusses ethical boundaries and looks at what constitutes a ‘communication’ with a juror. Given the nature of social media and the internet in general, he gives specific suggestions for gathering information from search engines (e.g., Google, Yahoo, Bing, et cetera), social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest), and resources for searching backgrounds (e.g., Lexis and Westlaw, state Department of Corrections, Spokeo and TLO).

He covers a huge quantity of information in four pretty pithy pages. He concludes with this:

“Admittedly, the vast majority of information gleaned from these websites will be unhelpful. However any helpful information can be invaluable and the success rate of these searches will only increase as social media usage continues to grow.”

About the same time, John Browning wrote an article for The Jury Expert that offers an update on the issues you must consider as you prepare for online research. John talks about the affirmative duty to research the jury pool and the ethical issues one must consider in such research. John concludes his piece this way:

“Lawyers are increasingly being held to a higher standard of technological proficiency and, as the use of social media platforms becomes more widespread, clients—and not just courts and ethics committees—expect lawyers to avail themselves of every technological weapon in their arsenal. Doing so in an ethical manner is imperative.”

We’ve written before about the painstaking and often tedious work of researching potential jurors. Shortcuts in doing that research have been found over the years since 2010 (when we wrote our post), but it’s still pretty tedious work with rare victories such as that unearthed and brought to light during the recent voir dire for the George Zimmerman trial. Instead of relevant information, you are more likely to find innocuous or potentially embarrassing information or the ever-present photos in random situations, but it is rare to find information powerful enough to strike a juror for cause.

We hope you’ll take a look at both of these articles. The two pieces, in combination, offer a terrific overview and initial strategy for your online research.

Browning, J. 2013 As Voir Dire Becomes Voir Google, Where Are the Ethical Lines Drawn. The Jury Expert, May.

Wetherington, M. (2013). Online research of potential jurors: A survey of resources and ethical boundaries. Verdict: The Journal of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (Summer)

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