Jurors’ comments no problem in Westfield court

WESTFIELD – The explosion of social communication options which resulted from the digital revolution has made it easier – and perhaps more attractive – for persons involved in criminal trials to forget the rules designed to shield jurors for outside influences as they perform their civic service.
The problem came under the spotlight recently when a city official in Northampton was chosen for jury duty and discussed on a social networking website the case he had been asked to help decide.
In Westfield District Court, officials have not experienced a similar problem according to Nathan Byrnes, the court’s assistant clerk magistrate.
In the Westfield court, Byrnes said, “Jurors are ordered immediately to not discuss a case with anyone” and said that the prohibition extends to discussion using any social media.
He also said that the jurors are told to not even talk about the type of case they might have been selected for because, he said, even a general discussion of a class of crime could influence a juror.
In addition to the prohibition on discussing cases, jurors are discouraged from doing any independent research, he said, so their decision will be based solely on what they hear in court.
He said that jurors are told not to research their case, or similar cases, online and told not to visit the crime scene independently.
“Basically (we’re) trying to keep them isolated to what goes on in the courtroom (in order) to eliminate outside influences,” Byrnes said.
Byrnes said that he does not know of any instance of improper discussion by a participant of any case in the Westfield court and said that court officials do not try to check on jurors by methods such as attempting to visit their pages on social websites to see if they have posted any comments about their court service.
He said that, if a problem arose, sanctions would not be extreme.
If a juror failed to abide by the court’s rules, although such a juror could probably be held in contempt of court, it would be more likely that he or she would simply be dismissed from the jury, Byrnes said.
As for court employees, Byrnes said that loose lips are not an issue.
Although almost all of the court’s documents are public records, the employees get guidelines from the Clerk Magistrate about what is appropriate to discuss outside of their workplace.
“It’s a common sense issue”, he said.

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