New Jury Instructions Try to Keep Up with Technology

Sitting on a jury in Florida now comes with a whole new set of instructions. And most of them are aimed at the cell phone or smart phone in your pocket.

The new rules were adopted by the Florida Supreme Court this fall and are being read by judges on the bench all across the state.

Andrew Sapronetti was called for jury duty in November and was selected to weigh the evidence in the robbery and murder trial of Latorya Pate.

That jury was one of the first in Leon County to hear a new set of jury instructions that now address our modern-day addiction to texting, googling and emailing.

"It wasn't too hard. If I had an alert to my cell phone it would probably be a little bit harder. I'm not sure how you'd be able to disable those, but you'd probably need to," Sapronetti said.

The new instructions no longer just prohibit jurors from talking about the case, they stress jurors cannot communicate in any way "including tweeting, texting,blogging, e-mailing, posting information on a website or chat room."

Jury instructions have always cautioned jurors against talking about the case or doing any of their own investigating, but on line access makes that much easier.

"It's just the way our society is going. With internet capability, every time there's a question, somebody gets in the habit of going on line and figuring out an answer. The problem for us, is the answers they're getting may or may not be correct," Circuit Judge James Hankinson said.

"There were some where people were texting friends to discuss during jury deliberations, not here locally, but this was one of the situations in South Florida. So, we didn't just have six people deliberating, one of those six was deliberating with their friends and that's pretty problematic," Hankinson said.

Jurors could face contempt of court charges for aggregious violations, but Hankinson says they are more likely to be excused from the case.

The real damage, judges say, is that it could result in mistrials or verdicts being thrown out, especially if jurors break the rules during deliberations.

"It's a really good thing to try," Sapronetti said of the new jury instructions. "I just don't know how effective it will be because it depends on people's honesty not to do that. It's basically an honor code," he said.

Judge Hankinson says most, but not all, of the problems that fueled the changes in the jury instructions occurred in South Florida.

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