As the Casey Anthony trial begins to heat up, the media pushes out every word spoken inside the halls of justice to the awaiting public -- a public full of opinions on her guilt or innocence. Lawyers on both sides have spent hundreds of hours preparing for this trial, consulting jury experts, prepping witnesses, and preparing their prosecution and defense strategies.
Now that the trial has started, everyone is watching the jury. Did the smile that juror 6 have when Casey first walked in mean he's leaning toward her? Was juror 9, who recently lost a niece who was about Caylee's age, deeply moved by pictures of the little girl? We don't know. And we won't know.
Highly publicized jury trials are nothing new, like the trials of OJ Simpson, Martha Stewart, and Winona Ryder. What is new is the instant online feedback from the public -- the speaking jury -- that can enlighten us all. While the 12 citizens in the box might not be allowed to judge or talk until the very end, the 120,000,000 citizens online will say plenty every step of the way. They will tweet, Facebook, post, and opine. They will, in essence, render a daily verdict.
Take this tweet from actor Jason Alexander: "Fascinated by Casey Anthony trial. I think the defense is almost ready to try alien abduction theory." Can all this coverage affect how justice is served? Should anyone involved in the case be paying attention to all this chatter?
Being "convicted in the media" is taking on a whole new meaning. The public chatter can be a very valuable resource when judging the progress that either side is making. It can be so valuable that legal teams on both sides would be remiss if they did not pay close attention to it every day. As legal professionals we all need to take a lesson from this case.
Having prosecuted rapes and murders in Los Angeles and tried Internet predators as a U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor, I have had to 'read' a juror's body language and facial expressions in a constant effort to determine how my case was proceeding. Every time, I could do nothing more than guess, speculate, and hope.
Today's counsel in the Casey Anthony case and the soon to start Michael Jackson murder trial have a speaking jury that always has something to say when it comes to justice. Because juries are picked from a group of our peers, there is no better way for us to understand what might be happening in the collective mind of the silent jury than to listen to ITS speaking peers. That means listening intently to online chatter by having a social media savvy intern dedicated to scouring social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) looking to see how the public jury is reacting to any given bit of evidence or testimony is a necessary component of prosecuting to the fullest or defending vigorously. Legal teams can adjust their tactics as they continuously get a sense of how the jury might go.
Juries aren't always predictable. And, anyone who has ever tried a case in front of a jury wishes they could have had more insight into the minds of the jurists. Now, in a way, we actually can.
Justice may be blind, the jury may be silent, but the public will surely speak online.
Follow Hemanshu Nigam on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hemanshunigam