Sorry Linus, I Need Your Security Blanket: How the Smartphone, Constant Connectivity with the Internet, and Social Networks Act as Catalysts for Juror Misconduct

Article excerpt

"The jury has the right to judge both the law as well as the fact in controversy." (2)

--John Jay, First Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court

INTRODUCTION

Linus van Pelt was first introduced to us as one of the characters from the Charles Schultz comic strip Peanuts. (3) Linus was the best friend of Charlie Brown, and serves as the comic's philosopher. (4) His most defining characteristic is his blanket, or "security blanket." (5) It was in fact Linus, or Charles Schultz, who coined the term "security blanket." (6) Linus was never without his blanket, and periodically even used the blanket to ward off those who would tease him about his unusual attachment. (7)

Linus has many connections to today's average juror, not only due to his intelligence, but also, because of his defining characteristic: his security blanket. Today's jurors also report for jury duty with their own security blanket in the form of a cell phone or smartphone. (8) Cell phones have permeated every facet of our lives, and with the introduction of the smartphone, access to the Internet is increasing at an exponential rate. Much like Linus, jurors are using their security blanket for more than a comfort object. (9) However, whereas Linus merely sought to defend himself from a bully, a juror's use of his or her cell phone during trial threatens the legitimacy of the entire trial and turns what should be a neutral decider of fact into a biased party.

In every trial, attorneys on both sides can agree on one thing: a biased juror or a juror who will engage in misconduct is unwanted. (10) The role of each juror in a trial is to decide the case based on the evidence presented within the walls of the courtroom. (11) If jurors take it upon themselves to research additional information or comment on the trial, misconduct has occurred. (12) Even though juror misconduct can occur in a variety of ways, a juror commits misconduct simply by violating the rules and instructions of the court. (13) Recently, the Internet and social networking websites, usually accessible via a smartphone, have emerged as a new outlet for juror misconduct. (14)

A juror conducting additional, unauthorized research is not a novel concept. (15) However, with the increasing popularity of social networking (16) and the ability to access the Internet through one's cellular telephone, courtrooms are discovering an alarming number of cases where "Internet Misconduct" (17) occurs through the use of a social networking website (18) or Internet search engine. (19) Whether the court presiding over a case determines that actual misconduct has occurred through the use of the Internet is not at issue in this article; rather, the prevailing problems of jurors using the Internet and social networking to violate their responsibilities, engage in Internet Misconduct, or create additional issues and burdens for the justice system shall be addressed.

The smartphone has led to uncontrollable access to the Internet at a moment's notice. Now, with the Internet at their fingertips, jurors have found two ways to subject themselves to misconduct by using the Internet. The first arises when a juror uses the Internet to research additional information that was not presented to him or her during the trial. The second occurs when a juror utilizes a form of social networking media. This form of misconduct arises when a juror posts a message on the Internet that is directly related to the trial of which he or she is a part of, or to look up participants in the trial itself.

This seemingly unstoppable wave of temptation for jurors is the product of a series of novel and profound inventions. The launch of Myspace (20) in 2003 prompted the advent of social networking. Instantly, anyone with an Internet connection could create a personal website featuring personal information and providing an uncensored forum to express ideas as well as discover data about other persons using the Internet. …