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School of Law | Hoffmeister Jury Rules Used in Barry Bonds Trial

Hoffmeister Jury Rules Used in Barry Bonds Trial

Model instructions devised by Associate Professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister that advise jurors to avoid from online communication tools have been used by the defense team of baseball slugger Barry Bonds in his perjury trial.

The instructions seek to address the growing problem of juror misconduct related to the Internet, smartphones, blogs and social networking sites, Hoffmeister wrote in a post on his blog, Juries, in which he introduces the instructions.

Hoffmeister explores on this issue in more detail in his latest law review article, "Google, Gadgets and Guilt: The Digital Age's Effect on Jurors," which will be published in the University of Colorado Law Review.

The instructions tell jurors that they cannot discuss their case with others or conduct independent research through "all forms of communication, whether in person, written or through any electronic device or media such as e-mail, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, instant messaging, Blackberry messaging, iPhones, iTouches, Google, Yahoo, or any Internet search engine or any other form of electronic communication for any purpose whatsoever, if it relates to this case."

The judge overseeing Bonds' trial gives a version of Hoffmeister's instructions to the jurors at the end of each day. In February, Hoffmeister shared his instructions with Bonds' attorneys, who filed a motion asking the judge in the case to read to jurors a slightly modified version of the orders.

Bonds is accused of lying to a federal grand jury in 2003 about using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. His trial began in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco on March 21. He has pled not guilty.

As baseball's homerun king, Bonds is both well-known and controversial. The San Jose Mercury News, which has written about Hoffmeister's jury instructions, reported that much of what has been written and said about Bonds won't be permitted in the trial.

So Bonds' lawyers want to make sure that jurors will not come across details on his life and career that are not brought up in the trial. One key way to ensure this is to keep jurors away from online communications.

Hoffmeister emphasized that if courts want jurors to give up such routine practices as researching facts and people on Google or blogging or tweeting about their lives, they 'need to explain to jurors why such habits are incompatible with jury service." This is one area stressed by his article on juror instructions.

"You just can't tell jurors not to do it," he said.

Incidents of juror Internet misbehavior have been increasing, Hoffmeister said. "Unfortunately, I think it's going to get bigger," he said. "It's so easy to get information," he added.

In a recent survey Hoffmeister conducted with federal judges, prosecutors and public defenders, 10 percent reported that they were aware of jurors doing personal research. "And I think that's on the low end," he said.

Courts around the country are in the process of modifying their rules on juror conduct, Hoffmeister said, "but they're still behind the times."

For instance, some believe that research primarily takes place at the library. But today, most research takes place online. "Twenty years ago, you could say, 'don¿t go to the library and do research,'" he said.

But that's not enough in today's wired culture. "If you don't know someone," Hoffmeister said, ¿you Google them."


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