Social Media background check being used for jury selection

Social Media background check? What? So in 2010, the ABA Journal reported that lawyers admitted to using the Internet to ferret out information about potential jurors.

Social Media background check

And essentially what happens: in some instances, while reading off the names of the members of a jury pool, a lawyer or paralegal Googles them. Sometimes the names are released the night before (at least, in Los Angeles County they can be), but it can also happen where lawyers only learn who would potentially sit on a jury on the day of selection.

State By State Differences

While state courts allow lawyers to bring laptops into courtrooms, Googling the jury panel isn’t what they have in mind, says Paula Hannaford-Agor, who directs the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts.

However, preventing counsel from checking potential jurors’ backgrounds online might pose a Constitutional question and may very well violate the First Amendment. Though the law remains fluid in this area, with no decisions or tests yet.

Personal Thoughts

With all of the above said, I don’t know where I fall on the spectrum. Preventing Googling doesn’t just seem like a First Amendment issue – it also seems to exist as more of a common sense one. Because with the invention of the telephone, when a lawyer suddenly could learn more about jurors (and far more quickly than sending letters or asking a messenger to run somewhere or another), was that ever questioned? And did it bother the jurors? Or did they perhaps not know about it? Or, maybe even if they did know, were they still so dazzled and flattered by the use of the brand-new technology? Did it make them not care, or see any implications?


And then we have the other end of things. Do I really want to be Googled if I’m in a jury pool? Welllll, lawyers look for every other possible advantage and nugget of information, so what would lead me to believe that they wouldn’t look there as well? If I exist as a somewhat sophisticated potential juror (and I’ve practiced law fer cryin’ out loud), I know that, in particular in an expensive or high stakes (read: death row) case, both sides will look for every possible angle. They scrutinize my bumper stickers. And my dress. My hair. Whether I’m wearing nail polish. My voter registration records. My work product, if available. Because they look at anything and everything.

Plus, as an avid Facebook and Twitter (and LinkedIn, and SparkPeople) user, I well understand the openness of my online life. And, for me, particularly after losing a boatload of weight, I feel it’s important to be open about a lot of things. Perhaps I overshare. No, wait, I definitely overshare. I know my life is open and there are all sorts of cracks in the armor.

Yet at the same time I, like many other people, feel there’s still a place to put on the brakes. Somewhere in there, there are vestiges of privacy. However, are they still available to me if I end up in a jury pool?

However, I’m not in a jury pool under my own volition. Hence I believe that, even as I share yet another “before” photo or mention that I’m turning a particular age or whatever, that I can throw up a wall.

Can’t I? Even a little bit?

Your Thoughts?

I’m curious as to what others think. Is this a squishy, I-want-to-be-left-alone area, or should we all just get over it? Is it the crest of a slippery slope? Would it would erode privacy even more? Or did I get all hot and bothered over nothing?

Gentle reader, what do you think?

4 Responses

  1. We were recently looking at something similar in Ethics class, about how ethical it is to use someone’s social media presence in making hiring decisions. I came down pretty heavily against it – I don’t just think it’s unethical; I think it should be illegal. After all, you get a ton of information that at least in the US is already illegal to ask about, such as age, marital status, and religious affiliation. All of that is front and center on most people’s accounts.

    Interestingly enough, even people who got the ultimate prize of being hired often felt violated if their social media presences were used for the making of hiring decisions. I think a lot of people use social media as mainly a playground and a way to chat, with a small amount of commercial activity akin to helping their daughters sell Girl Scout cookies (which I have seen online many times and feel is completely appropriate). But a lot of us don’t take it too terribly seriously. Truth is, the parts that I take seriously are blogging and anything I do for a job search. I really hope no one’s judging my fitness for work based on whether I told Facebook I watched, say, Xanadu. There’s something very stiff, nitpicky, and wrong about that, I feel.

  2. Hmm, difficult question, but then, maybe not so much. We’re still the ones who control how much private information we share via social media, so I think it’s a good idea to consider what this information could be used for by others once it’s made public. Of course, we can’t foresee all possible consequences and living in an ivory tower defeats the whole purpose of having a social media presence, but exercising some caution in that area might pay off.

    I definitely agree with Jonathan on the fact that there’s no stopping authorities from using social media in their research, so if it’s out there and it can be googled, it will be googled. I guess it’s the times we live in.

  3. Hiya Jonathan,

    That’s actually pretty similar to what happened, it was a tort case and a potential juror, it turned out, had run on a Tort Reform platform. Interestingly enough, the firm that rejected him lost the case anyway. So, did it matter? Not in the long run, it didn’t.

  4. I don’t there is any way of preventing either the defense or the prosecution from using whatever means they have to discover information about potential jurors. Before the Internet, juror names were looked up in the phone book and inferences were made based on the quality of neighborhood or closeness to the scene of crime described in the case that would be before the court.

    I think Googling someone may have the effect of TMI, how much information is needed to judge whether a potential juror will be able to hear a case impartially?

    I can think of one interesting slant: a juror trying to mis-lead the court. Suppose a potential juror has said that she can be impartial during a hearing about a break-in at a nuclear facility and then the Prosecutor finds in a search that she was still a member of the “Hell no, We won’t Glow!” Coalition? Potential for perjury charge?