Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts


In 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided United States v. Lawson, a case of first impression about a juror’s use of Wikipedia during deliberations. Had this case been decided in the 1950s, the juror’s contact with the extra-record material during deliberations would have given rise to a presumption of prejudice in favor of the party claiming he was denied a fair trial. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, the United States Supreme Court seemed to eliminate that presumption and place the burden of proving prejudice on the party seeking a new trial. As a result, federal circuit courts today disagree as to when, if at all, the moving party should enjoy a presumption of prejudice in such cases. But every federal circuit court’s substantive analysis focuses on the nature and impact of the extra-record contact, regardless of whether the presumption applies. This common substantive analysis has been used in Internet-based misconduct cases and should be expected in Wikipedia-based misconduct cases.

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