|Renoir, Monet Reading, 1872|
Giving rise to the question of how fair can jury trials be when all of the information which could preclude a fair trial is readily available on most cellphones by merely googling the Defendant's name. Has technology precluded the possibility of fair trials? If other Judges are as eagle-eyed as District Judge Clancy Smith, then the right to a fair and impartial jury may be protected well into the future.
The presiding Judge later spoke on why it's important to cap juror's knowledge of relevant facts to only those facts presented in the courtroom; even better, the Judge forbids cellphone use during trials:
"I tell all the jurors you have to decide the case on what you hear in the courtroom because so much of that would be inadmissible and it's not proven and not true sometimes," said District Judge Clancy Smith.
Jurors can learn things that have no bearing on the case, like if the person has filed for bankruptcy or been sued or has previous charges -- things that could sway their thinking during deliberations.
"The fear is you will convict him because of his past, not because of what happened here and so, these are the main reasons you can't let them look at something not screened by a judge."
The Judge is right to be concerned. The vast majority of cases in the American Justice System end with a plea bargain. When a Defendant asserts his right to a jury trial it's often due to special circumstances which the jury is forbidden to know. Plea offers and plea agreements should be open, transparent and based on the facts of the case laced with the defendant's scoresheet and guideline calculations; but because Florida prosecutors and even Judges must face the electorate other factors often play a role in plea negotiations where jail time is demanded in situations where no jail would be a reasonable plea offer.
When the Defendant demands a jury trial, all that mattes is that he is asserting that he is not guilty and therefor must be given a fair opportunity to hear the facts and evidence against him and to present any witnesses or evidence in his behalf. In Tampa Bay, Florida one recent high profile murder case had to called off when jurors were found to be gossiping about the possible facts of the case even as the jury was being selected. The goal of every Florida criminal trial must be to give the Defendant a fair trial by tamping down jury information so that due process rights are respected even if he's represented by a Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyer who views that iPhone of yours as nothing less than magic.