3d Cir. “Likes” Jury Instructions on Social Media

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently ordered that former Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Fumo resentenced. As reported by Reuters, Fumo had been sentenced to 55 months in a minimum-security prison after being convicted of fraud and related charges in 2009. The prosecution appealed the sentence, though, arguing that it was too lenient.


On appeal, Fumo had a request of his own, seeking a new trial due to comments made by a juror via Facebook while the trial was still in progress. Fumo’s counsel had moved for a mistrial for the same reason but, after examining the juror in question, the trial judge denied the motion and the trial continued. The Third Circuit affirmed the decision and, in its opinion, reviews the standard for a mistrial based on juror misconduct.

Even more interesting, though, was the court’s comments on how social media is influencing the legal system. The Third Circuit “enthusiastically endorse[d]” the Proposed Model Jury Instructions regarding the Use of Electronic Technology to Conduct Research on or Communicate about a Case, which were promulgated by the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management in 2009. The Court continued its “enthusiastic endorsement,” stating that it:

strongly encourage[s] district courts to routinely incorporate them or similar language into their own instructions.

The full opinion is available on the Third Circuit’s website–the portions of the opinion discussed above can be found at pages 27-30. And, if you’re interested in this topic, you can read more about the impact of technology on the practice of law and the legal system at Going Paperless Blog, which I write in my spare time.

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