Jury instructions are a recitation of the law applicable to a particular case — at the end of a trial, the jury is “instructed” as to the law, which the jury must follow in reaching a verdict. There are hundreds of “pattern” jury instructions published by the Illinois Supreme Court, and top-rated Chicago personal injury lawyers must stay abreast of recent modifications to the IPIs, because juries will be instructed to follow the law that appears on those instructions. The Supreme Court recently issued several new Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions (IPI) to be used in civil personal injury lawsuits, including IPI 1.01 “Preliminary Cautionary Instructions”, which has been modified to address concerns regarding technology and the accessibility of information online.
IPI 1.01 is typically the first jury instruction given to the jury at the conclusion of a personal injury lawsuit. The instruction begins by telling the jury, “Now that the evidence has concluded, I will instruct you as to the law and your duties.” There have been several modifications to this instruction, but two changes have been directly influenced by this new age of technology:
First, jurors are now instructed that the “use of cell phones, text messaging, Internet postings and Internet access devices in connection with your duties violates the rules of evidence and you are prohibited from using them.”
In the Comments to this jury instruction, the Illinois Supreme Court notes that jurors are prohibited from discussing the case until deliberations. Thus, it appears this rule is designed to prevent juror from sending text messages, “tweets”, internet posts, etc. concerning the trial, during the trial. The Comments also state that internet searches and wireless handheld communication “by jurors in any given case has the potential to cause a mistrial. It is critical to the administration of justice that these electronic devices not play any role in the decision-making process of jurors.”
This rule would seem to apply to juror deliberations after conclusion of the evidence as well. However, if there was any confusion, the second modification to IPI 1.01 clarifies the rule regarding jurors conduction their own investigation:
Second, jurors are now instructed that “You should not do any independent investigation or research on any subject relating to the case. What you may have seen or heard outside the courtroom is not evidence. This includes any press, radio, or television programs and it also includes any information available on the Internet. Such programs, reports and information are not evidence and your verdict must not be influenced in any way by such material.”
This rule addresses the concern that jurors will reach a decision in the case, not based on the law and the evidence at trial, but based on their own investigation into what may have occurred. Furthermore, jurors are now specifically instructed not to perform their own internet search concerning the lawsuit, what may have occurred, the witnesses, the attorneys, etc.
It remains to be seen what impact these jury instructions will have on juror behavior. Will jurors follow these instructions and avoid the temptation to “tweet” their thoughts about a particular case or conduct a Google search of the plaintiff? Or, will these new instructions have the opposite impact — will jurors who would not ordinarily have thought to use technology to investigate the case now decide to do so? We will see.
To speak with a top-rated Chicago personal injury attorney with Passen & Powell, call (312) 527-4500 for a free consultation.