Two news stories today converge nicely on the topic of whether, behind closed doors, juries obey judges' instructions to stick to the evidence. First, Newsday writes of three recent cases in which jurors went beyond what they were supposed to -- two by getting outside information, and the third by drinking while they talked.
Most juries try hard to stick to the evidence, as several experts consulted for the Newsday article stress. Studies for the Arizona Jury Project show, the article says, that "jurors scold one another when off-limits information is introduced" -- something anyone who has done more than a few mock trials has seen. (I think the particular article referred to is Diamond & Vidmar, Jury Room Ruminations on Forbidden Topics, 87 Va. L. Rev. 1857 (2001), although it doesn't focus heavily on the "scolding" phenomenon.)
But watch those cell phones
The Newsday article continued, though, "Nor do experts believe that the advent of the Internet has increased jurors' temptation to cheat. The same information that can be found on the Internet could be found in the newspapers and on the radio in days past, they said."
Here I'm not so sure; times are changing very, very fast. That's where the second article comes in. The New York Times ran the word "Wikipedia" through a case database and found that judges are starting to cite it, often and with humor, for definitions of phrases like "booty music" and "jungle juice." No less a stickler than Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit called Wikipedia a "terrific resource," if one to be used cautiously.
If we have suddenly come to a day when Judge Posner is citing Wikipedia, I'm guessing that jurors' comfort with greater and greater Internet access is changing out from under us, too. They no longer have to leave the jury room to check Wikipedia, and they know it; there's a very strong chance that several of your jurors have accessed the Internet from their cars, or from their seat at the ballgame.
It may take a little more effort now to remind juries to stay within the evidence. Think about it when you're drafting jury instructions, and consider it as a voir dire question: Can you get to the Internet from your cell phone? Do you? For what? Can you follow the judge when she tells you not to do that here?