Data from social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have been used to gather evidence in criminal trials, against employees (which can lead to lawsuits) and applicants to jobs in the US and abroad, applicants to colleges and graduate schools, politicians and high school students.
Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that attorneys are visiting social-networking sites to search for data on possible jurors:
Prosecution and defense lawyers are scouring [Facebook] for personal details about members of the jury pool that could signal which side they might sympathize with during a trial. They consider what potential jurors watch on television, their interests and hobbies, and how religious they are. […]
Josh Marquis, district attorney of Clatsop County in Oregon, did background searches on Facebook to help pick a jury for a penalty trial last summer to determine if a convicted murderer should get the death penalty. […]
Some legal experts oppose this growing practice of scouring social-media sites, arguing that the traditional jury-selection process, which involves lawyers questioning prospective jurors, provides more valuable information than out-of-context online comments. […]
Some appellate courts have upheld lawyers’ rights to research jurors online, including one in New Jersey that ruled last year that a lower-court judge erred by prohibiting a plaintiffs’ attorney from using the Internet in the courtroom. […]
Many people, [Armando Villalobos, the district attorney of Cameron County, Brownsville, Texas,] said, limit access to more telling details to those they have “friended.” (It’s unclear, for example, what his prosecutors would glean from Mr. Villalobos’s own Facebook page, without friending him: It shows he is married and a fan of the TV show “Spartacus.”)
Mr. Villalobos is considering a method to get behind the site’s private wall to learn more. One option: granting members of the jury pool free access to the court’s wi-fi network in exchange for temporarily “friending” his office.