Some recent media attention has focused on attorneys and trial consultants who use Google and Facebook during voir dire to learn more about prospective jurors. The Wall Street Journal and Reuters recently ran pieces discussing the practice and both articles describe instances where trial consultants and attorneys discovered information online that influenced the use of their peremptory challenges. Beyond legitimate concerns about jurors’ privacy, how effective are online searches for juror information?
Both articles describe the kinds of information that might be found online, including the jurors’ favorite TV shows, their hobbies and activities, and their opinions as expressed on blogs, Tweets and Facebook posts. But only briefly addressed in the article is how much this information benefits the attorney and trial consultant. In other words, does the information obtained from online searches help in any way to predict a jurors’ eventual verdict?
When helping to select a jury, I am most interested in jurors’ attitudes on case-specific issues. These case-specific questions are consistently the best predictors of jurors’ eventual verdicts. So, for example, if the case involved a lawsuit against an automaker after a vehicle accident, I would encourage the attorney to focus our voir dire questions on learning more about jurors’ attitudes toward car companies and vehicle safety, jurors’ experiences with car accidents, their feelings about the quality and safety of their cars, and so on. I might also be interested in their attitudes toward big business in general.
Would online searches help answer these questions? If a juror happens to be blogging or Facebooking about their feelings on automobile safety or corporate scandals, online research would be incredibly valuable. Unfortunately, IMHO, most user-generated on-line content (OMG!) ranges from the mundane to the banal. The WSJ and Reuters articles both list examples of interesting information gleaned from online searches, but such needles in the haystack of Internet noise must be seen as the exception rather than the norm. Moreover, much of the information obtained from online searches, such as favorite shows and political orientation, could have been gained far more easily by simply asking the juror in court.
Having professed my skepticism of the practice, I can see where online searches might be useful in certain cases. For example, in cases where juror information is extremely limited and judges allow the attorneys to ask few, if any, additional questions of the prospective jurors, online searches might be useful as a final recourse. But in my experience, judges in such cases offer so little time for jury selection that there would probably be no opportunity to conduct thorough on-line research of all the prospective jurors.