On January 30, 2012, Todd Cooper authored an article for the Omaha World Herald about Douglas County Nebraska Juror No. 22, who was found to be in contempt of court for consulting his smart-phone during the course of first-degree sexual assault trial. Juror No. 22 was discharged from the jury and subsequently sentenced to 40 hours of community service. Mr. Cooper’s article discussed Juror No. 22’s work emergency wherein if he did not stop a train with an un-paid for load of grain his company could be responsible for the value of the grain, $5.3 million. Juror No. 22 ignored the Court’s prior admonitions about smart-phone usage, and paid the price.
I recall my first smart-phone with fondness and regret. At the outset, it provided me with false sense of progression in my career and some added convenience. It didn’t take long for me to realize the convenience also created a certain measure of constant availability. As I am certain my family would attest, my smart-phone established a constant sense of responsibility which followed me from my office, to my car, to my home, to my weekends and even my vacations. As a result, I have a certain measure of empathy for Juror No. 22. However, as Mr. Brislen has pointed out in two of his blogs, the electronic age has been less than kind to the jury trial process.
In the end, the courts will need to find some balance between smart-phone usage and protecting the sanctity of the trial by jury process. Whether this comes in the form of courts employing active (which could be illegal) or passive cell phone jamming technology, limiting jurors’ access to their phones during a trial or some other methodology, the questions and answers will continue to evolve over time. As a trial lawyer, you should be prepared to address these issues with the court or your clients could suffer the consequences.