According to a recent article in the New York Times, more and more lawyers are turning to Google and social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace to uncover personal details about potential jurors, hoping to ascertain if the jurors are likely to take their side.
Lawyers are conducting extensive online searches and compiling the information into spreadsheets, and many of the searches are being done in courtrooms while jury selection is going on. This practice has raised concerns about juror privacy and about whether the process has enough court supervision. But many lawyers feel justified in the practice because juror questionnaires often contain only superficial information and some jurors aren’t completely forthcoming in their answers. Lawyers also look at online vetting as a way to bypass court-imposed restrictions on the questions that they can ask prospective jurors.
The federal courts have not yet addressed the issue of online vetting, and just two states, Missouri and New Jersey, have found the practice to be acceptable in some forms. Court rules, meanwhile, are unclear or nonexistent in most jurisdictions.
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