The Ottumwa Courier

May 29, 2013

A different kind of cyber threat

By Judge Annette J. Scieszinski
Ottumwa Courier

---- — The reality is, that in our country’s culture, people depend on electronic devices. For many, it’s become a 24/7 relationship. Sometimes I wonder where it will lead us, and if coming generations will be born with advanced dexterities to instinctively operate smart phones. Just watch the teenagers to see how fast the thumbs can move.

Technology enhances our lives exponentially from what we imagined even just a decade ago; yet, the prevalence and mobility of electronics presents us with profound dangers. Physical threats are well publicized — such as the perils of drivers who text or the enabled access predators have to potential victims. Many parents know well the psychological risks also posed — such as youngsters’ unhealthy obsession with online relationships.

Even the court system has to be on guard. Every judge experiences interruption by someone’s ringing cell phone that temporarily halts somber proceedings. But the creep of unapproved technology into court functions is more sinister than that because it can operate to undermine the very fabric of justice.

Last week in an Appanoose County jury trial, I gave what-have-become standard instructions to jurors:

“ ... Until you have reached a verdict, you may not communicate about this case outside the jury room, [including] via cell phones, and any form of electronic media such as text messages, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, email, etc.

“ Do not [investigate] this case on your own. Do not visit or view any place discussed in this case, and do not use Internet maps or Google Earth or any other program or device to search for or to view any place discussed in the testimony. Also, do not research any information about this case, the law, or the people involved, including the parties, the witnesses, the lawyers, or the judge ...

“ This case must be tried on evidence presented in the courtroom. If you conduct independent research ... your verdict may be influenced by inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading information that has not been tested by the trial process — including the oath to tell the truth and cross-examination. All of the parties are entitled to a fair trial rendered by an impartial jury, and you must conduct yourself so as to maintain the integrity of the trial process. If you decide a case based on information not presented in court, you will have denied the parties a fair trial in accordance with the rules of this state, and you will have done an injustice.”

It’s a brave new world in the justice system.

Judge Scieszinski lives in Albia and has served the 8th Judicial District for 17 years as a trial judge. She may be reached at annette.scieszsinski@iowacourts.gov