The issue of cell phones in the St Louis City Circuit Court and St Louis County Circuit Court has been ongoing for several years now, primarily because the majority of cell phones are "smartphones" with built in cameras and internet capability. Until recently, unless you were an employee or a Missouri lawyer, the St Louis City court security would not allow any cell phone into the courthouse with a built in camera. However, they now allow cell phones in the courthouse and leave it up to the individual judges to decide if they want to allow them in their particular courtroom. This has always been the policy in St Louis County.
Judges are now rethinking the rules about allowing cell phones in the courthouse. See St Louis Post Dispatch Article: Cellphones increasingly a problem for courts across St. Louis region. As a Missouri trial lawyer practicing primarily in the St Louis area, my biggest concern is the use of the internet on jurors' smartphones during a trial and deliberations. I have never advocated taking them away, as I trust most jurors will and do listen to the judge's instructions about not researching the case outside of the courtroom or using the internet to research the case or parties involved. But it will happen, and this is a reason why my personal injury clients are instructed to either take down social networking pages or be very careful about what they post or discuss on such websites as Facebook or Twitter. Additionally, as an accident attorney, I must be mindful about what I post on my website or blog.
I heard a story recently from an insurance defense lawyer friend of mine about how Facebook may have damaged a St Louis brain injury case because of what the jury saw on the lawyer's website and Facebook page. Apparently, after the jury reached a defense verdict (meaning the plaintiff or injured victim lost) the defense lawyer stayed around and talked about the case with some of the jurors. Since after the verdict is decided the Judge discharges the jurors, after that discharge the jurors are free to talk with the lawyers or anyone else about the case and why they decided what they did. As with many brain injury cases, there were many issues and facts for the jury to decide; however, this defense lawyer was apparently told by several jurors that they researched the Plaintiff's lawyer and did not like what they saw on his website and Facebook page. Apparently they felt the lawyer was bragging about winning and making money instead of being concerned about his client's injuries. Did this have a major effect on the outcome of the case? Maybe, and it is definitely an issue any good personal injury lawyer needs to be concerned about.
As mentioned above in the Post Dispatch article, the Judges are more concerned on the effect of camera phones on criminal cases and specifically juror intimidation. Relatives of a criminal defendant reportedly took pictures of the jury and posted them on Facebook, was this meant as a threat to the jurors? Regardless of the intent, it should not happen. We now live in the age of instant access to information through smartphones and Judges and lawyers need to take precautions to make sure the cases are decided on the evidence presenting in the courtroom, not what can be found on the internet.
I have discussed hundreds of issues pertaining to injury cases on this blog, and this is again another issue of the hundreds that a good personal injury lawyer is aware of and takes the necessary precautions and actions. In the past few years I have had many injured victims try to handle their own cases for a few months or even a year or longer, then when the insurance company is offering them peanuts they come to me for advice. Oftentimes, major damage has been done to the case, as one of many examples, insurance companies will investigate you through social media, meaning they will look at your Facebook account and save any comments you make or pictures of you that will hurt your case. Facebook comments or pictures that can be taken out of context and used against you to claim you are lying about your injury or the affect it has on you.
If you have an injury claim, call an experienced accident lawyer today to discuss your options. All initial consultations are free of charge; and if we take the case we do not get paid unless you win. Call (314) 863-0500 to speak directly with a lawyer.