Attorneys Allowed to Search Social Media of Jurors

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By Stephanie Tyrpak
By Randy Livingston

WSIL -- The next time you're called for jury duty, your Facebook page could get some extra attention. A national group is giving lawyers the ethical go ahead to search online postings of potential jurors.

In the age of online connections, you can "like" the Massac County State's Attorneys Office.
 
"We try to reach out to people in the community to inform them as to what's going on in our office," said State's Attorney Patrick Windhorst. 
 
Internet postings have also helped Windhorst and law enforcement build a case.
 
"We can use that in a criminal investigations to gather information about people's activity," said Windhorst. 
 
But when it comes to keeping digital tabs on jurors, Windhorst isn't on board.
 
"I understand their logic and their reasoning behind their decision," said Windhorst. "It's not something we do or plan to do."
 
There have been several cases where social media has gotten jurors into trouble. In one case out of Arkansas, a woman was tweeting about how she was bored during the trial. 
 
Earlier this year, the American Bar Association agreed that it's okay for attorneys to check out those social media sites of potential and current jurors.
 
The opinion does lay down some ethical rules. Info that can be publicly seen is open for searching. However, lawyers are not allowed to friend or follow a person. They also can't ask for access to a juror's account.
 
You can view the American Bar Association opinion here. 
     
For trials in Massac County, nearly a hundred possible jurors are brought in. They are then randomly selected for questioning. That would leave a lot names to search. 
 
"It would be a waste of time preparing for trial to be on Facebook or Twitter when instead I should be focusing on my case," said Windhorst. 
 
To prevent someone from sharing details that could lead to a mistrial, cell phones are locked up during hearings and deliberations.
 
"Insure the jurors aren't reaching out to others or posting something about the case, which could be detrimental to the case," said Windhorst. 
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