A drug trial in Florida earlier this year ended in a mistrial after the judge discovered that nine jurors had ignored instructions not to do their own research online. Increasingly, jurors are conducting Google searches on defendants, digging evidence that may have been intentionally excluded, and checking Wikipedia for definitions of legal terms.
This new phenomenon scares judges so much that legal experts have created a new term: “Google mistrials.”
Retrials are expensive and can create a blacklog. But more importantly, when jurors do their own sleuthing, it can undermine the justice system and deprive dependants of a fair trial. Prior convictions are generally not admissible in court, yet if jurors Google a DUI defendant they might discover that the defendant has a history of prior convictions and that can taint their opinion. Of course, that information could be incomplete or completely inaccurate. It’s an issue that lawyers and judges will be facing more and more as an increasing number of jurors become tech-savvy.