"Google mistrials"; what East Texas does to avoid them

By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - explains why a new term has been coined..."google mistrial"...and what's preventing it from happening here. A Facebook post from a Pennsylvania juror could mean a possible appeal. Fewer than 140 characters in a Twitter update, upended an Arkansas trial. Even in the courtroom jurors are wired, sometimes, before they even get there.

"There was one juror who came in and volunteered that she had looked at every story that had been printed," said F.R. "Buck" Files, Jr., a criminal attorney in Tyler.

He said it happened just a few weeks ago during jury selection for one of his defendants. A summoned juror just wanting to "brush-up" on the case, had to be dismissed.

"We all hope that jurors are totally truthful in giving answers to the questions which are asked of them," said Files.

Especially before they make it to the jury box.

"It's always a potential problem, and it's up to the trial judge to address the issue," he explained.

241st District Judge Jack Skeen said jurors are supposed to decide their verdicts based solely on the evidence presented in court.

"They're instructed not to make any investigations of the case, not to do any research, or read anything about the case at all," explained Skeen.

Judge Skeen said cell phones are supposed to be off during a trial. The bailiff takes them up altogether before deliberation. He said in his experience, jurors have followed those instructions, but new challenges arise with each new case.

"I think that it's very likely that in the future that you'll see statutes that address changes in technology," he said.

So when justice calls, accept the charges, but when you hang up try to leave the cell at home.

Misconduct in the jury room can be grounds for a mistrial and appeal. Jurors who violate court rules also risk being held in contempt of court.