September 01, 2015

iWitness: The Jury and the Internet: A New Way of Thinking

You can take the Internet out of the jury box, but can you remove its effects on the jurors themselves?

George B. Curtis

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“Nowadays, everybody assumes, when they wake up in the morning, if they have a question, it will get answered. Because they have the Internet. No matter what the question is, someone will answer their question.”

—Jack White

“The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom.”

—Jon Stewart

These two quotes, taken from the Internet (naturally), nicely frame the topic of this article. As trial lawyers, our job is to persuade. The Internet, in that context, functions as both resource and complication. It is an extraordinary resource for factual development, understanding context, and checking into the backgrounds of the triers of fact. It can also be a troublesome complicating factor when a trial is conducted and the Internet threatens the integrity of the jury process. “Passing around notes in a classroom,” as Jon Stewart puts it, is not the preferred style of a jury trial.

Perhaps even more fundamentally, the assumption described by Jack White goes to the central questions of how a jury listens, how its members absorb and construe facts, and how a trial lawyer is to engage a jury who assumes that “[n]o matter what the question is, someone will answer their question.” If, as some commentators have argued, the Internet is changing how we think, how we process information, and what garners our attention, then trial lawyers should be interested—very interested.

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