Is Jury Research on Social Media an Ethics Risk or a Competency Requirement?

ethics riskQUESTION: During a recent jury trial, counsel was provided with completed jury questionnaires including names, ages, home addresses and places of employment. In addition to using traditional research techniques found in public records, to what extent may we use social media platforms to research the venire?

ANSWER: While a jury voir dire process may differ by jurisdiction and even courtroom, it nonetheless often entails limited time or opportunity to examine the venire. The reliance on jury consulting firms is a testament to this at the onset of many important trials.

Nowadays, simply inputting an individual’s name into an online search engine can yield a wealth of information. You can quickly learn if they own a home, are registered to vote, have recent civil or criminal cases against them, or even determine their job history and likely salary. Still, such data leave the attorneys to further interpret how a person may react or behave during the jury trial and deliberation. Social media, however, often provides a much deeper dive into who’s who in the venire.

Isn’t It Public Information Anyway?

If you’re using a general internet search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo) to directly retrieve information, there should be no ethics concerns. The search results should be coming from publicly available information, thus not invading the jurors’ privacy or expectation of privacy. The same may be true with some advanced public records searches (paid or unpaid) because they often only serve as an aggregate of records already made public, such as criminal records, property records or voter registration.

ABA Formal Opinion 466 explains:

READ MORE Attorney at Work January 23, 2018

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Mark C. Palmer

Mark C. Palmer

As Professionalism Counsel, Mark leads professionalism programming through the statewide mentoring program, collaborating with stakeholders from Galena to Cairo. Mark also supports the development and delivery of educational programming to lawyers and in law schools. When not in the office, you will likely find Mark and his wife busy raising their twin daughters, enjoying his passion of traveling and eating around the world, and training for his next half marathon.
Mark C. Palmer

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