Last Friday, Governor Brown signed California Assembly Bill 141 into law. AB 141 formalizes long-standing informal rules banning the use of social media and electronic devices (including smart phones) by jurors to discuss or research cases. As well, the bill forbids jurors from using electronic or wireless devices to contact court officials. While existing laws require a court to remind and admonish jurors to refrain from conversing about a case during trial, the bill:
[W]ould require the court, when admonishing the jury against conversation, research, or dissemination of information pursuant to these provisions, to clearly explain, as part of the admonishment, that the prohibition applies to all forms of electronic and wireless communication. The bill would require the officer in charge of a jury to prevent any form of electronic or wireless communication.
Beginning in January, if a juror disobeys such an admonishment, he or she will face contempt of court charges.
I was particularly interested in this new law because I was called in for jury duty last week. Although I was excused from service, the process of impaneling a jury was fascinating and the court certainly gave us the standard admonishment each time we took a break during the day. I wonder though what, if any, extra steps a court will now take to ensure that jurors obey the updated law. I’m sure at this point jurors’ tweets and Facebook posts, for example, are tracked in some fashion during trial by counsel and court officials if they are able. With the new law, will one be required to list all social network handles and accounts? If one already locks down content and posts, how can a court track what one may or may not say? I imagine the honor system will still essentially be at play here; however, the fear of getting caught and charged with contempt can act as a good deterrent.