Lawyers Using Facebook To Aid In Jury Selection 3-31-2011 - KPTV - FOX 12

Lawyers Using Facebook To Aid In Jury Selection 3-31-2011

Facebook has had a far-reaching impact in the United States and beyond, but FOX 12 found the social media website is also changing the justice system in Oregon.
More prosecutors and defense attorneys are relying on Facebook for information during jury selection.
Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis used Facebook and Google to research potential jurors for the death penalty trial of Randy Lee Guzek, who was sentenced to die for the brutal 1987 murders of Rod and Lois Houser.
He said the information found on Facebook can be useful.
"It's rarely a smoking gun kind of thing where a person says, 'I think all prosecutors are stinkers' or 'I don't think the death penalty is right,'" Marquis said. "It's going to be more subtle."
Subtle in the sense of likes, dislikes, books and television shows, anything that may suggest whether the potential juror is opinionated or not or how he or she might feel about a particular law.
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"Maybe information that the juror doesn't want to disclose (that) would be awkward to ask about," Marquis said.
Marquis has been the district attorney in Clatsop County since 1994. He knows his small community and -- what he calls -- the 2 percent of the population that is often in trouble with the law.
"If I was to go on Facebook and find the juror is friends with 10 people we're constantly prosecuting, that would be a red flag," he said.
High-profile criminal defense attorney John Henry Hingson III also sometimes uses Facebook and other websites when selecting a jury pool.
"It gives you a more in-depth feel for who a person is, what their interests are, their possible biases (and) prejudices, maybe," he said.
Hingson was cagey when asked to name a particular case, but the Oregon City attorney readily admits that sleuthing juries is nothing new. Prior to Facebook, he hired investigators to drive by jurors' homes and look for information.
"What kind of bumper sticks they have on their cars, things of that nature," he said.
Hingson said it's just good, old-fashioned detective work. Like a bumper sticker, Facebook and the rest of the Internet are really about how people choose to portray themselves to the outside world.
Many Internet experts, however, warn that what is posted on the web may not always be the truth. Marquis said he takes it with a grain of salt.
"If you Google my name, probably 10 to 15 percent are horrible, dreadful things that are said anonymously about me," Marquis said.
Hingson said sometimes Facebook posts can be in jest, but also sometimes revealing as to who they are as human beings.
"I want to know as much about that person as I can so I can make an intelligent decision as to whether or not to accept that person as a juror on a case," he said.
But is the Facebook research an invasion of privacy on the attorneys' part?
Hingson said Facebook posters knowingly expose their status updates and photos to the public.
"There is no invasion of privacy there whatsoever," he said.
Hingson and Marquis said they both draw the line at requesting a prospective juror as a friend on Facebook.
"I think that would cross the line into intruding into someone's privacy," Marquis said. "That’s going too far.
"I would stay away from that like Count Dracula stays away from the sunshine," Hingson said. "No way. No contact."
In Oregon, the law does not allow lawyers to contact juries.
But the two attorneys agree checking social media is a must in the information age. Marquis said he doesn't like to think about what would happen if he lost a case and later found something telling online and Hingson shared the same sentiment.
"You ought to be a gumshoe in cyberspace if you're trying to do the best job you can for your client," Hingson said.
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