In the first reported New Jersey case, a juror was held in contempt of court for conducting internet research during a criminal trial. Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne found that juror, Daniel Kaminsky, had violated numerous instructions not to conduct independent research during the trial. Kaminsky was serving as the jury foreman in a case in which the 20-something defendant was charged with selling 1,500 ecstasy pills. During deliberations, Kaminsky discovered on the internet that if convicted, the defendant could be sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. Allegedly, Kaminsky told follow jurors that he could not vote guilty in light of the term of the prison sentence. After the jury deadlocked, a mistrial was declared in the criminal matter.
It was subsequently brought to the court’s attention by a fellow juror that Kaminsky allegedly conducted internet research during deliberations. Judge Doyne then conducted a hearing to determine whether Kaminsky should be held in contempt of court. He found that the juror had willfully conducted outside research in complete disregard to the numerous instructions advising him not to do so. Accordingly, the juror was fined $500.
In issuing his ruling, Judge Doyne noted that he “understands instant access to seemingly endless amounts of information is a reality of today’s world…[and] should be celebrated.” However, he opposed the “notion that the American courtroom, with its constraints and controls developed over the centuries…is somehow incompatible with…today’s world of high-speed information on demand.” Judge Doyne concluded by writing that “the proliferation of electronic information renders the sterilized atmosphere of a courtroom even more important.”
Increasingly, jurors are being admonished throughout the United States for internet research. As Judge Doyne suggested, the model jury charges need to be modified to explicitly direct jurors not to use the internet for research and advise of the penalties if these instructions are not followed.