The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees “the accused…the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” U.S. Const. amend. VI. The right to a trial by an impartial jury can be threatened by numerous external sources, including social media. Social media is present in most jurors’ lives, whether it be through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Most jurors use these platforms throughout the day to communicate with others and to stay updated on the news. While social media may be beneficial in many ways, it is of serious concern to the presiding judge during trial.
Prior to social media, the greatest concern with respect to improper influence on the jury was communication with family members, friends, and other jury members about the case. However, with the proliferation of social media sites, there is a much greater concern of information and disinformation being communicated to the jury. Thereby improperly influencing their opinion and depriving the accused of the right to an impartial jury.
In an effort to combat the threat of social media infringing upon the accused’s rights, the Federal Judiciary Committee has issued an update to the model jury instructions that expands upon the previous version issued in 2012. These new jury instructions contain language that judges can use to deter jurors from researching or communicating about the case through social media and thereby better ensuring the jury remains impartial.
The model jury instructions discuss the ways in which social media can undermine a jury’s ability to render an impartial verdict. The 2012 model jury instructions suggest that reminders of social media instructions be given at the beginning of trial and at the end of trial. The new model jury instructions suggest that jurors be reminded of the restrictions throughout trial. The new jury instructions consider the rapid growth in social media websites, as well as the growth in complexity and sophistication. Given this, the courts have a greater challenge in ensuring that the verdict rendered is based upon the evidence presented in the courtroom and not based upon external influences on social media.