Many of us can’t live without our smart phones. Our phones are our portals to our businesses, personal lives, and the world as a whole through email accounts, social network connections, and the internet – all at our fingertips and available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The Honorable Linda Marks of the Orange County Superior Court recently presented an excellent CLE hosted by the Orange County Women Lawyers Association. Judge Marks thoughtfully offered her observations regarding recent changes in juror voir dire due to rapidly changing technology and Gen Y joining the jury pool.
By way of background, Gen Y is the name given to those born after 1985. They are proficient in, and dependent on, social media (smart phones, the internet, and texting). For them, it would be unthinkable to leave the house without their phone/email/internet/texting. They are constantly in touch with their friends.
According to Judge Marks, Gen Y presents two unique issues with jury selection: (1) capturing their attention in a way that makes sense to them given their constant access to information; and (2) potential issues with juror misconduct.
Gen Y was born into an age filled with unlimited information. They are, by and large, comfortable with and dependent on the internet and other technology for easy access to unlimited information in real time. Gen Y are constantly exposed to multiple sides of every story via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other websites. They also grew up exposed to major scandals of all kinds, especially involving the government and large companies – Monica Lewinsky, Enron, Madoff, oil spills, and seemingly endless political and economic stories of corruption. Its not surprising that Gen Y doesn’t have much trust for the system, including if not especially, attorneys and the judicial system.
Judge Marks advises that attorneys Google their clients and other parties, as well as themselves, before trial to be aware of the public information that may affect the jurors. Even though potential jurors are advised during voir dire that they are not to seek out information regarding the case or the parties, many jurors may be unable to resist the temptation of just one quick Google search. Attorneys who elect to keep Gen Y jurors might consider addressing weaknesses in their case early and often, as Gen Y tends to view an attorney avoiding an issue with suspicion.
Technology also presents increased concerns for juror misconduct, starting immediately during voir dire. Because potential jurors, especially Gen Y, are in constant contact with friends and the outside world via texting and the internet (which is conveniently located in their pocket smart phone), they face the possibility of misconduct or inadvertent juror tampering 24 hours a day. Judge Marks suggests admonishing potential jurors immediately during void dire, and that attorneys seek assistance from the judge regarding additional guidelines for jurors to reduce these risks.
Overall, Judge Marks views Gen Y jurors as unpredictable and risky. But like it or not, Gen Y is the up and coming pool of potential jurors, and attorneys need to take the necessary steps to reach these jurors, embrace technology, and get comfortable with trying cases in the face of constant and unlimited information. Gen Y isn’t going anywhere, and besides, if attorneys are nervous about Gen Y, we had all better fasten our seatbelts for the jury pool up next!