Pennsylvania Supreme Court Restricts Use of Electronic Devices by Jurors

On July 7, 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted new Rules of Criminal Procedure, and revised and renumbered other Rules, to provide for instructions to prospective and selected jurors concerning the use of personal electronic devices during their service. Jurors are prohibited from using such devices for communication or to conduct independent research on a case. The rule changes provide for clear instructions to be given to jurors upon their first interaction with the court and at various stages of the proceedings. Judges are authorized to hold a juror in contempt for violating the rules and confiscate a device. The Criminal Procedural Rules Committee’s Final Report details these rule changes, which are effective October 1, 2015.

The Supreme Court contemporaneously approved similar changes to the Rules of Civil Procedure. The Civil Procedural Rules Committee’s Explanatory Comment provides additional information as follows:

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has adopted new Rules 220.1 and 220.2 and the amendment of current Rules 220.1 and 223.1. The changes are intended to provide guidance to the bench and bar regarding the use of electronic devices by jurors in civil cases.

The new rules and amendments provide for jurors to be instructed that the use of electronic devices is restricted during their tenure as a prospective juror, i.e. a member of the jury pool, and as a selected juror. The new provisions require the trial court to instruct jurors that they may not conduct independent research on the Internet about the case, communicate about the case electronically, e.g. “tweet” or “blog,” or use such devices during juror service. A trial court is required to instruct jurors at the earliest opportunity of interaction between the juror and the trial court, and then repeat those instructions as often as practicable. The new rules and amendments provide for sanctions against any person who violates the provisions of these rules. It should also be noted that a note to new Rule 220.1 cross-references Section 1.180 of the Pennsylvania Suggested Civil Jury Instructions, Pa. SSJI (Civ), §1.180. These instructions specifically address the use of electronic devices by jurors. While the proposal focuses on the use of electronic devices by jurors, it remains silent as to their use in the courtroom by the public and media. Rule of Judicial Administration 1910 outlines the responsibility of a trial court regarding the broadcasting, televising, or taking of photographs in the courtroom in civil proceedings.

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