New California Law makes it a Misdemeanor for Jurors to Communicate on Facebook, Text, or Tweet about a Pending Case
Hello everyone and welcome to the JACPA Ethics Alert. This Ethics Alert will discuss the new California law which makes it a misdemeanor contempt of court punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine to willfully text, tweet, post, or communicate on Facebook, or otherwise interact with another person about the pending case.
Apparently in response to multiple high-profile cases which led to some appeals and overturned convictions, California Governor Brown signed the amendment to California Statutes into law on August 5, 2011. Under the statutory amendment, California state judges are required to instruct jurors that they are prohibited from using any “electronic and wireless communication” to “conduct research, disseminate information, or converse with, or permit themselves to be addressed by, any other person on any subject of the trial” and willful violation of the instruction is a misdemeanor criminal contempt punishable by up to six months in jail.
Bottom line: Jurors in pending cases are already routinely instructed not to use electronic means to conduct research, text, tweet, or talk to others about the ongoing trial. The new law in California specifically makes it a criminal misdemeanor contempt of court to violate the judge’s instructions. Although judges in Florida (and presumably in California) already have the inherent authority to consider finding a juror in contempt for violating a court’s instruction, the California law makes it a misdemeanor crime of contempt of court to violate those instructions.
As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or anyother ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.