The Real Social Network: How Jurors' Use of Social Media and Smart Phones Affects a Defendant's Sixth Amendment Rights
Marcy Zora   |   2012 U. Ill. L. Rev. 577
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The advent of the Internet and the rise of social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook have created new challenges for the courts in protecting defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights. The Sixth Amendment provides criminal defendants with “the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury” as well as the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” These Internet resources, particularly when combined with new technologies such as smart phones with web-browsing capabilities, provide jurors with a new avenue to do independent research on the defendant or the case, or to communicate trial-related material before deliberations are complete, both of which violate a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights. This Note analyzes the different approaches courts have taken in combating such violations, including the use of more specific jury instructions, restriction of juror access to electronic devices such as smart phones, use of voir dire to exclude “at risk” jurors, and monitoring of juror Internet activities. Ultimately, this Note argues that jury instructions, prohibitions on electronic devices in the courtroom, voir dire, and monitoring are insufficient to protect defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights. Courts, rather, should establish specific punishments for engaging in these prohibited activities, ensure that the jurors are informed of the punishments, and take a more proactive approach toward identifying violators by questioning jurors throughout the trial process.