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Jurors Were Hung Up On The Internet

       A long federal jury trial in Fort Lauderdale ended with a thud on March 10, after U.S. District Court Judge William Zloch declared a mistrial. The case had been muddled by jurors meddling in the new media.

The defendants had been charged with peddling prescription drugs over the internet. Without a prescription. But the eight week trial ended when the judge discovered several of the jurors had done of bit of research on their own. Using the internet. One jury had posted remarks on Twitter.

   After a column on the Internet’s threat to the trial system, I received an e-mail myself from one of the jurors on the ill-fated case. Shelli Edwards of Hollywood wrote:

     

      I served on that jury, and it was a tremendously rewarding experience despite the hassles associated with it. As one of four "alternates,” I was dismissed after closing arguments. The jurors who deliberated kept their promise to let us "alternates" know what happened. What you probably don't know is that after 3 days of deliberation, what ended in a mistrial was going to be a hung jury.

       Hopefully your column will help spark the discussions needed to bring our courts into this century.The questions raised by the trial need to be addressed soon, because the societal cost of this re-trial will be astounding.

       One judge, two clerks, one prosecutor and her assistant, two DEA agents, one courtroom reporter, one bailiff, one secretary and 16 jurors were directly involved in this trial every day for almost 2 months. That means taxpayer funded salaries, juror pay of $40 per day plus mileage & parking, the costs of security, and upkeep of the building itself. Add in the costs of expert testimony of doctors ($400 - $500 per hour), pharmacists ($200 per hour), and government employee testimony (regular rate of pay plus plane fare & lodging).  I won't even get into costs of the defendants and their attorneys, many of whom are from other states.

       The silent costs of finding a new jury include about 150 additional residents removed from their lives for 2 to 3 days during the jury selection process alone. Now factor in that 16 more employers of the newly chosen 12 jurors and 4 alternates will be paying for workers who aren't going be there for the next 4-8 weeks.

       That's a lot of money (and stress on many families), only to have to do it all again because we haven't addressed the "internet media issue" in terms of our current legal philosophy.

       People are naturally curious, and as jurors they want to do the right thing -- character traits that are not mutually exclusive. It's just too expensive to assume otherwise.

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