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New Law Sends Tweeting Jurors to Jail

Updated July 9, 2014: AB 2683, which was signed into law on July 8, 2014, deletes the provision in Pen C §166 making it a misdemeanor for a juror to wilfully disobey a court admonishment related to the prohibition on any form of communication or research about the case, including all forms of electronic or wireless communication or research.

Going further than his predecessor was willing to go, California Governor Jerry Brown has criminalized juror tweeting. Under AB 141, which will go into effect on January 1, 2012, any juror who willfully disobeys the court admonishment against any form of communication or research about the case, including tweeting, may be sent to jail for contempt.

Courts already tell jurors not to talk about an ongoing trial, but under the new law, they will be further told not to do any research or spread any information on any subject of the trial. This admonishment will explicitly apply to “all forms of electronic and wireless communication.”

The SF Chronicle reports that this new law was prompted by many reports of jurors’ using electronic devices to “sidestep judges’ warnings against outside research or contacts.”  Jurors have been known to research the defendant’s criminal record and check out crime scenes online.

This may feel a bit like deja vu, because a similar bill came up last year, but was vetoed by then-Governor Schwarzenegger, who, according to the ABA Journal, believed the current warnings to jurors were adequate. Apparently they were not enough for Governor Brown.

The really big deal here is that tweeting or facebooking jurors may face jail time for civil or criminal contempt.

What are the differences between civil and criminal contempt? Here’s the basic breakdown:

  • Civil contempt is criminal in nature; it is used to vindicate the dignity of the court and to punish disobedience of its orders. On finding someone guilty of this type of civil contempt, the court may impose a fine of up to $1000 (generally payable to the court), order the contemnor imprisoned for up to 5 days, or both.
  • A charge of criminal contempt under Pen C §166 is prosecuted like any other misdemeanor and usually carries a maximum punishment of 6 months in jail or a $1000 fine, or both. Pen C §19.

What do you think? Is jail time too harsh? Do you have any war stories about tweeting or facebooking jurors in your cases?

On jury management issues from voir dire through trial, turn to CEB’s California Trial Practice: Civil Procedure During Trial, chap 17. For everything you need to know about civil and criminal contempt, check out CEB’s California Criminal Law Procedure and Practice, chap 58.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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