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Idaho may bar jurors from using electronics

LEWISTON – The Idaho Supreme Court’s criminal jury instruction committee is discussing guidelines that would prevent jurors from using electronic devices to post their thoughts or do research on cases.

Michael Henderson, counsel for the court at Boise, said the state is aware of the growing popularity of personal electronic devices that can be used by people in the courtroom to relay information to blogs and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

“We haven’t heard specifically of problems with this, in coming to us from Idaho cases,” Henderson told the Lewiston Tribune. “But we are aware of the problem.”

Henderson said nothing has been approved so far. But he said if instructions for jurors are approved they would be recommended for use in both magistrate and district courts throughout Idaho.

Some Idaho courts are already moving toward creating guidelines for jurors spelling out restrictions about using mobile electronic devices. Specifically, judges don’t want jurors going on the Internet to research a case.

“I always tell them that they have to make their decision based on only what’s in the courtroom,” said 2nd District Judge Jeff M. Brudie in Lewiston. “Things like going on Google Earth and looking at the intersection where it happened, I think we’re going to have to tell them not to do that.”

Among the more popular social networking Web sites where people can keep a running commentary of what they’re doing or their thoughts about what’s happening is Twitter, which allows messages of 140 characters at a time.

Henderson said possible instructions to jurors being considered by the state don’t mention Twitter and other social networking sites by name, but they would fall within the new guidelines.

Brudie said local guidelines could be added to those already in use by the state or in addition to possible new guidelines from the state.

The guidelines could help jurors focus on being jurors.

“You can’t do it for public consumption,” Brudie said.