Many people think that jury trials are proceedings in which a jury looks to discover the truth. In practice, jury trials are a search for justice and fairness. Justice does not necessarily mean a search for truth. Justice, in a court setting is search for a conclusion based on a limited amount of information. The process of a trial is designed to control the flow of information to eliminate information that is unreliable, speculative, and unduly prejudicial. Findings by a jury result in justice and not necessarily the truth because the flow of information is limited. The final result is suppose to be fair with due regard to constitutional rights, statutory limitations, and the system of justiceJudges instruct jurors to avoid outside sources of information. They are prohibited from talking to other people about the case and are prohibited from researching the case. Independent research by jurors can result in a mistrial.
Some jurors ignore instructions and research facts or law on the internet. Internet usage by jurors sitting on a trial is so common that is has a name: “mistrial by Google.” Research on the internet has become second nature to many people. It is also considered a private matter. Since nobody will search a juror’s smart phone or tablet, jurors feel that they are free to research the case. They can look up the lawyers, the parties, news articles, legal concepts, geographic facts, and other matters. Using Wikipedia, jurors can learn legal definitions and history. With Google Maps, they can look at the scene of a crime.
A rule that prohibits jurors from using the internet is doomed to fail. No matter what instructions a judge gives, some jurors will use their computers to research on the internet. Perhaps the courts should encourage some internet use and allow the judge and lawyers to review the material found and work with the information. The judge can instruct that the Wikipedia definition of a legal concept is not the definition in the jurisdiction. This would allow the judge to explain the difference instead of jurors relying on bad law. It is better for lawyers to address incorrect statements in news articles instead of jurors relying on facts created by a reporter.
The Internet has changed many institutions in society. It is time for jury trials to recognize the influence of the Internet and adapt to this technology.