A Florida Supreme Court task force is studying what to do when tech and testimony intersect.
Joseph L. Amos Jr., a partner at Fisher, Rushmer, Werrenrath, Dickson, Talley & Dunlap in Orlando, says similar incidents have become so common and problematic in Florida that the Florida Supreme Court created a task force to figure out what to do. Amos, chairman of the task force’s committee on jury instructions in civil cases, attributes the rising problem to iPhones, BlackBerrys and other hand-held devices that have made it easier for jurors to discretely search the web during courtroom breaks, meals or even during deliberations.
“The boundaries of evidence are the courtroom walls,” Amos says. “We can’t have jurors Googling a defendant to find out if they have a prior criminal history. If a juror starts doing their own personal research, that could understandably be brought into the deliberations, perhaps even unintentionally, and influence unfairly the decision.”
In its report, the task force recommended that both prospective jurors and those chosen to serve on juries in state courts no longer have access to their smart phones. Prospective jurors would be informed of the policy as they arrived for jury duty so they couldn’t surf the web while waiting to see if they’ll be picked. Amos expects that the Supreme Court will make a decision on the proposed ban later this year.
“A lot of people are starting to focus on this,” Julin says. “They’re trying to decide whether the courts need to really step in and have one rule that applies across the board. I don’t see any reason to prohibit the devices from the courtroom. They’re really no different than a reporter writing on a pad of paper. As a matter of constitutional law, I think you could make a pretty good First Amendment argument that if the judges want to exclude the devices, or if the parties want to exclude them, they should be required to put on some evidence to show that they are disruptive to what’s happening in the courtroom. And they just aren’t.”