How do you conduct online searches in jury selection?
The options for online searches of potential jurors seem to be a fast-moving target. Our experience is that often there is simply no time for more than the most cursory efforts that often happen during a very short voir dire session itself. In other cases, if there is time to conduct such research, sometimes the information required to do accurate online research (i.e., full name, address, date of birth) are not provided. Yet presentations talk about the importance of a thorough search and some go so far as to say it is not ethical to forego such background internet research into potential jurors [citing the 2010 Missouri Supreme Court standard]. So it was good to see this (hard to obtain) article from last year on what is actually being done in the trenches.
Researchers did their own background search of an actual jury venire using the following sites as search tools: Google, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and GoogleBlogSearch. They actually found information on more than a third (36%) of the jurors (in our experience, this is a fairly high proportion, and suggests that this was probably an urban venire).
They performed four separate searches on each of the five sites: full name, full name + state, full name + city, and full name + date of birth.
However, 94% of the information they found was procured via simple Google searches. Only 6% of the information they found was unique to other internet sites. On the other hand, their strategies for ensuring they had the correct “Joe Johnson” were not as intensive as we actually do in our internet searches where accuracy is critical.
The researchers’ [common sense] interpretation of finding the vast majority of information in one spot was that it really was not particularly efficient nor effective to search multiple sites– it is more efficient to stick with Google.
They then turned to lawyers, trial consultants, law students and undergraduates to see the level of information known on social media, attitudes toward use of that information in jury selection, and what was actually being done (and taught) in the trenches of litigation advocacy and law school classrooms about juror’s right to privacy as well as the possible ethical issues in using online search tools for jury selection.
Study participants identified four areas wherein they saw ethical issues:
- juror rights [either a right to privacy or the idea that they should not post information online if they wanted privacy],
- defendant/accuser rights [a fair and impartial jury is a constitutional right but some thought these online searches ethical and indicative of competent lawyering while others did not],
- court processes [some felt the jury selection process should be uniform across individual jurors and those with online presence would be subject to unfair scrutiny] and,
- the sites themselves [using the sites for purposes other than social networking is inappropriate and the information is of questionable validity].
It’s an interesting article although the sample sizes are quite small (175 undergraduates, 27 law students, and 11 trial consultants and trial lawyers). The authors see this as an initial foray with follow-up work to be done in the future. The takeaway for us is this: when time pressure is intense–the most bang for your buck comes from a Google search. When you have ample time and budget (perhaps for the high-profile trial) using other searches may be worthwhile if the extra 6% is critical information to have. If, for instance, the value of their home, the model of car they drive, the level of their education, or the number of people who live with them is crucial, there are better ways to find it unless you do a lot of drilling-down through Google links. The authors also recommend the use of paid search sites and perhaps, even a private investigator.
We think we’ve seen the gamut of investigations, ranging from none to those using both paid search sites (in the event you don’t know this, “privacy” is largely a pleasant fiction) and private investigators. Even in the latter cases, though, our work in slogging through site after site after site (in search of that elusive 6%) did yield information previously unknown. Whether it was essential information or not is highly variable. The overall cost benefit analysis of social media research during voir dire remains, for us, an open question. It just depends.
Neal, TMS, Cramer, RJ, Ziemke, MH, & Brodsky, SL (2013). Online searches for jury selection. Criminal Law Bulletin, 49 (2)