In the first reported case of its kind in New Jersey, Judge Peter E. Doyne, Bergen County Assignment Judge, held attorney Daniel M. Kaminsky in contempt of court for violating multiple court orders to refrain from conducting research on the internet concerning the issues involved in a criminal trial in which Kaminsky participated as a juror. In the Matter of Daniel M. Kaminsky, Charged with Contempt of Court, Bergen County, March 12, 2012 (unpublished).
Kaminsky participated as a juror in a criminal matter in which the defendant was indicted for allegedly selling 1,500 ecstasy pills to an undercover agent. Kaminsky was designated the jury foreperson. During jury selection and throughout the trial, the court reminded the jury of their obligation to refrain from researching the law, the court, the attorneys, the judge, or the trial itself. Jurors were specifically instructed they were prohibited from using social media. After trial, the court declared a mistrial as a result of a deadlocked jury.
Thereafter, various jurors reported that Kaminsky violated the court’s directives at various times during the trial by googling the punishment for the specific crime which the defendant was accused of. As a result, Kaminsky, after conducting the internet search, concluded that he could not vote for a guilty verdict because the defendant, who was in his mid-twenties, would receive a minimum sentence of ten years if convicted. One juror reported that Kaminsky said he became “physically sick” over the prospect of “put[ting] someone’s child in prison for 30 years, because that’s what he – he understood the penalty [to be].”
The court executed an order to show cause directing Kaminsky to appear and show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court for using the internet and social media to research information on the criminal case. On the return date of the order to show cause, Kaminsky admitted that he researched the possible punishment the defendant in the criminal case faced and discussed the results of his research with his fellow jurors. However, he argued that his acts were not contemptuous because he already knew of the possible punishment as a result of attending drug education classes at his children’s schools, and the results of his research did not impact his decision to vote not guilty at trial.
The court could not find a single reported case in New Jersey in which a juror was sanctioned for violating a jury instruction to refrain from conducting independent research on the internet. However, the court did find the following facts to exist in the case beyond a reasonable doubt: 1) Kaminsky conducted independent internet research during the trial; 2) such act was contemptuous; and, 3) such act was performed willfully, with a complete disregard of the court’s authority and instructions. As a result of these facts, the court found Kaminsky in contempt of court.
As punishment for contemptuously violating a direct order of the court, Kaminsky was fined $500. The court explained its ruling as follows:
The court understands instant access to seemingly endless amounts of information is a reality of today’s world. And this fact, by and large, should be celebrated. That being said, this court rejects the notion the American courtroom, with its constraints and controls developed over the centuries, with its methodical and deliberate means of proceeding, is somehow incompatible with or outdated in today’s world of high-speed information on demand. Indeed, the proliferation of electronic information renders the sterilized atmosphere of a courtroom even more important. Conversely, the court remains confident American jurors, and more specifically New Jersey’s jurors, possess sufficient discipline, patience, and sense of civic duty to obey a court’s order to refrain from researching a case on their own. With today’s decision, jurors should be aware the American court system, as well as their own liberty, depend on their ability not to betray that confidence.
The case is annexed here – In the Matter of Daniel M. Kaminsky, Charged with Contempt of Court