Rule 626. Preliminary Instructions to Prospective and Selected Jurors.
(A) For purposes of this rule,
(1) the term prospective jurors means those persons who have been chosen to be part of the panel from which the trial jurors and alternate jurors will be selected;
(2) the term selected jurors means those members of the panel who have been selected to serve as trial jurors or alternate jurors; and
(3) the term jury service means service as (1) members of the jury array, (2) prospective jurors, and (3) selected jurors.
(B) Persons reporting for jury service, upon their arrival for this service, shall be instructed in their duties while serving as prospective jurors and selected jurors.
(C) At a minimum, the persons reporting for jury service shall be instructed that until their service as prospective or selected jurors is concluded, they shall not:
(1) discuss any case in which they have been chosen as prospective jurors or selected jurors with others, including other jurors, except as instructed by the court;
(2) read or listen to any news reports about any such case;
(3) use a computer, cellular phone, or other electronic device with communication capabilities while in attendance at trial or during deliberation. These devices may be used during breaks or recesses but never may be used to obtain or disclose information prohibited in paragraph (C)(4);
(4) use a computer, cellular phone, or other electronic device with communication capabilities, or any other method, to obtain or disclose any information about any case in which they have been chosen as prospective or selected jurors. Information about the case includes, but is not limited to, the following:
(i) information about a party, witness, attorney, judge, or court officer;
(ii) news reports of the case;
(iii) information collected through juror research using such devices about the facts of the case;
(iv) information collected through juror research using such devices on any topics raised or testimony offered by any witness;
(v) information collected through juror research using such devices on any other topic the juror might think would be helpful in deciding the case.
(D) These instructions shall be repeated:
(1) to the prospective jurors at the beginning of voir dire;
(2) to the selected jurors at the commencement of the trial;
(3) to the selected jurors prior to deliberations; and
(4) to the selected jurors during trial as the trial judge deems appropriate.
(E) Jurors shall be instructed that they are required to inform the court immediately of any violation of this rule.
This rule was adopted in 2015 in recognition of the fact that the proliferation of personal communications devices has provided individuals with an unprecedented level of access to information. This access has the potential for abuse by prospective jurors who might be tempted to perform research about a case for which they may be selected. Therefore, the rule requires that prospective jurors be instructed at the earliest possible stage as to their duty to rely solely on information presented in a case and to refrain from discussion about the case, either in person or electronically.
It is recommended that the juror summons also contain the language.
It also is recommended, as an additional means of ensuring adherence, that the judge explain to the prospective jurors the reason for these restrictions. This explanation should include a statement that, in order for the jury system to work as intended, absolute impartiality on the part of the jurors is necessary. Such impartiality is achieved by restricting the information upon which the jurors will base their decision to that which is presented in court.
Adopted July 7, 2015, effective October 1, 2015.
Committee Explanatory Reports:
Final Report explaining the July 7, 2015 adoption of new Rule 626 regarding instructions to prospective jurors published with the Courts Order at 45 Pa.B. 3985 (July 25, 2015).
The provisions of this Rule 626 adopted July 7, 2015, effective October 1, 2015, 45 Pa.B. 3980.
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