January 22, 2015

Attorney General Eric Holder Issues a New Order Addressing Asset Forfeitures, But it Doesn't Do What Many Seem to Think it Does.

As criminal defense and asset forfeiture attorneys in the Jacksonville, Florida area, we have seen the many different ways the government will take and forfeit someone's property under the state or federal asset forfeiture laws. These cases have ranged from questionable searches seemingly designed to seize and forfeit certain property to cases where property is taken but no criminal arrests are ever made to outright thefts by the government of a person's property. Unfortunately, the government's taking of property is an area that has not received the attention that it deserves. When the police go and take a person's cash because he/she is carrying a large quantity of it without even contemplating an arrest and with no indication that the person committed any crime, that should get some scrutiny. But, it rarely does.

Attorney General Eric Holder recently made an announcement about a rule change regarding certain asset forfeitures. The new rule prohibits federal agencies from adopting state asset forfeiture cases, except for those cases involving public safety, i.e. guns, explosives, child pornography. After the new rule was published, we saw a lot of articles on the Internet indicating this is the end of asset forfeitures, in some form of another. It isn't. Not even close.

First, let's talk about what this new rule does not address. Before we do that, it is important to understand two terms. Seizure - when the police seize one's property, the police are taking possession of that property. Forfeiture - when the police forfeit one's property, they are assuming ownership of that property. If the government successfully forfeits property, that property now belongs to them. Asset seizures and forfeitures are conducted by police and other law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels. State asset forfeitures laws apply to the state and local law enforcement agencies; federal asset forfeiture laws apply to the federal agencies.

The new rule articulated by Mr. Holder does not appear to limit federal asset forfeitures in any way. The federal government is still free to seize and forfeit assets in the same manner they did in the past, which is a lot and often. Additionally, this does not prohibit any local or state agency from seizing and forfeiting assets. This does not, in any way, affect those states that do not have rules that limit how state and local agencies can use the money and other property that they seize and forfeit.

So, what does this new rule do then? Well, we have to go back and understand why Mr. Holder enacted this new rule. One obvious problem with asset forfeitures is that it gives law enforcement agencies a profit incentive to take people's property. If the state agencies can use that property for their own benefit, they obviously have an incentive to take more and more of it. This is why we see cases where police seize property without even arresting anyone for a crime. If there are two things government agencies and officials love more than all else, they are government and other people's money. It is no secret that if a vehicle has an ounce of marijuana in it, the police are more likely to try and seize the vehicle for forfeiture if it is a nice vehicle, it is paid off, and someone in that agency can become the primary driver of that vehicle after forfeiture.

Due to the presence of this obvious profit motive, more and more egregious seizures of property were taking place. Some states decided to try and curtail these unlawful police seizures of property by addressing the conflict of interest, i.e. the profit motive. Some states passed laws saying that most of the money and other property seized and forfeited by state and local law enforcement agencies could not go to the direct benefit of those law enforcement agencies. Instead, the forfeited property would go to the benefit of a general state fund or an education fund. For example, some states have passed laws limiting the seizing agency's asset forfeiture profit share to 20% of the money or value of the property seized. If a county police officer seized $10,000 from someone allegedly involved with illegal drugs, the county police department could only keep $2,000 of that forfeited money for themselves. The other $8,000 would go into a general state fund that did not directly benefit that county police department. Since the police were not seeing the direct and immediate benefit of these forfeitures, they would be less likely to overreach and take people's property.

Unfortunately, as we have come to understand, some law enforcement agencies work under the theory that laws are for other people to follow. To circumvent the state laws limiting how much state and local law enforcement agencies can profit from their asset forfeitures, these law enforcement agencies worked out deals with federal agencies. Since the state laws regarding asset forfeitures do not apply to federal agencies, the state and local law enforcement agencies would seize property just as before, but rather than have a state agency pursue the forfeiture case, the seizing state agency would hand the case over to a federal agency to pursue the forfeiture. The seizing state agency would pass the forfeiture case over to the federal agency with an agreement that the state agency would receive a higher percentage of the profits from the forfeiture than the new limiting state law would allow. In the example above, the county police department was limited to gaining $2,000 if the forfeiture case was pursued on the state level. Alternatively, that county police department could give the forfeiture case to a federal agency, unaffected by state asset forfeiture laws, with an agreement that the county police department receive 80% of the forfeited money. This was clearly done to circumvent the new state forfeiture laws and allow state and local law enforcement agencies to profit from asset forfeitures as in the past and more than the new state laws allowed.

Mr. Holder's new rule prevents federal agencies from taking, or adopting, these forfeiture cases from state and local agencies in order to circumvent state laws limiting how much state and local law enforcement agencies can profit from these asset forfeitures. It is unfortunate that the federal government has to enact a rule preventing the federal government and state and local government agencies from disregarding rules designed to limit how they take property from the people who they are supposed to serve. However, because these government agencies need to be monitored and governed this way, it is a good and necessary rule. On a more global level, it is also encouraging to see the federal government begin to address a clear problem that goes largely unnoticed.

That being said, it is still important to understand this is not some sweeping paradigm shift that will drastically, or even noticeably, change the number of asset forfeiture cases nor the often questionable methods government agencies use when interacting with people in an effort to take and assuming ownership of their property..

January 13, 2015

Court May Decide Classifying Marijuana as a Schedule I Drug is Unconstitutional

One of the myriad problems and idiotic characteristics of the monumentally wasteful and unsuccessful War on Drugs is that the marijuana plant, or cannabis, is classified as a Schedule I drug by the federal government. Schedule I drugs are the most highly restricted drugs and reserved for drugs that are considered the most dangerous. Also, ironically, they are drugs that are considered to have "no currently accepted medical use", despite medical evidence to the contrary. As a result, under this rule, marijuana cannot be prescribed by a physician, despite the fact that medical marijuana is legal in one form or another in many states. Another characteristic of proper Schedule I drugs is that it must be a substance that has a high potential for abuse. As an example, heroin has a high potential for abuse. To classify marijuana and heroin together in such a category is ridiculous and unsubstantiated by any honest measure.

One result, of course, is that we have numerous criminal laws dealing with marijuana, and marijuana arrests are some of the easiest arrests for law enforcement to make to maintain their stats and keep prisons full. However, in a marijuana cultivation case pending in California, the defendants are challenging the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug. On its face, to have marijuana as a Schedule I drug with heroin while cocaine, methamphetamine and Oxycontin sit in the Schedule II category with drugs that apparently have "less abuse potential than Schedule I drugs", is completely ridiculous and irrational. Hopefully, a court will see this.

If the court does acknowledge this travesty of common sense, it is unclear what effect it will have on others. While it will likely help the particular defendants in this case, it may or may not reverberate to other locations and other decisions. Hopefully, it, or something, will prompt the federal government and prosecutors and judges to see that marijuana related prosecutions are a waste of time, money and resources as well as being counter productive.

January 9, 2015

In Florida, State May Be Able To Prove a Burglary Charge If Defendant Has The Property Shortly After The Theft

In Florida, prosecutors often charge someone with burglary even when there is no direct evidence that the defendant was at the house, business or other location that was burglarized. Generally, a burglary involves a person entering some structure with the intent to commit a theft or other crime once inside. Where a suspect gets caught breaking into a house or leaving a house with stolen property, a burglary charge is easier to prove. However, many burglary cases in Florida are brought even when there is no direct evidence establishing the defendant was at the location that was burglarized. There is a jury instruction in Florida that says a jury can consider the fact that the defendant was in possession of stolen property shortly after the burglary to find a defendant guilty of burglary. This is the case if it is clear the property was in fact stolen and the issue is whether the defendant was the one who stole it. This instruction does not come into play when the defendant admits he/she took the property, but, perhaps, defends the case by saying he/she had a right to take it.

For example, in many cases, there will be a burglary of a house, car or other structure that can be pinpointed to a certain time, i.e. a victim hears that his car is bring broken into and immediately calls the police at 5:00 p.m. The victim says his laptop computer was stolen from his vehicle. The police will likely check local pawn shops. If the police uncover evidence showing the pawn shop that is 10 minutes away from the victim's car has a pawn ticket and fingerprint from the defendant indicating he pawned the laptop computer at 5:15 p.m., that defendant will likely be charged with burglary, among other charges. While there may be no direct evidence, i.e. an eyewitness, that the defendant broke into the car and physically took the laptop, the state can get an instruction to the jury telling them they can consider the fact that the defendant had the stolen property shortly after the theft when considering a burglary charge. The defendant can always refute this instruction by claiming he had a reason why he had that stolen property unrelated to the burglary. This usually takes the form of a defendant claiming a friend gave it to him to sell or he bought it from a stranger and resold it. However, the closer the defendant's possession of the stolen property is in time to the burglary, the less credible that kind of defense will be.

December 11, 2014

Florida Drug Case Thrown Out Where Police Stop Suspect for Driving Too Slowly on Highway

In Florida, a lot of drug arrests stem from simple traffic stops. One way for a criminal defense attorney to attack such a case would be to challenge the legality of the initial stop. While this may be difficult when a police officer is prepared to testify that the suspect violated some traffic law, sometimes police officers make mistakes when they pull people over.

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer stopped a suspect driving on the highway for apparently driving too slowly. The speed limit on the highway was 65 miles per hour, and the suspect was driving 45 miles per hour. The minimum speed was 40 miles per hour. After the police officer stopped the suspect. The police officer discovered that the suspect had a suspended license and arrested the suspect. The police officer also found a gun and cocaine in the car. The suspect ended up with felony and misdemeanor charges as a result of the traffic stop.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress all of the evidence leading to all of the charges because the initial stop was not valid. The suspect was not breaking any traffic laws so that would not be a legitimate basis to stop him. However, a traffic violation is not the sole legal basis for a police traffic stop. A police officer could arguably stop a driver if there was a reasonable belief that the driver was having some sort of medical problem. Police are allowed to stop a person and investigate if there is specific evidence of some kind of serious health issue. Alternatively, if the suspect was causing some type of traffic problem, that could be a legal reason to conduct a traffic stop.

In this case, the police officer testified that the suspect was impeding traffic so he stopped him. The court determined this was not a valid reason for a stop. Since it was permissible to drive 45 miles per hour on the highway, while it might slow other drivers down, it was not so problematic as to allow a police officer to stop the vehicle. Since the slow driving was legal behavior, a police officer would need more to conduct a traffic stop.

Since the initial stop was invalid, all of the evidence the police officer discovered after the stop was thrown out, and the charges were dismissed.

December 8, 2014

It is a Felony to Bring Drugs or Contraband into a Florida Jail but State Must Prove Knowledge

In Florida, it is a felony for a person to bring contraband into the jail. Many of these cases involve a person who is arrested with drugs on them and do not want to tell the police officer the drugs are there. The police officer does not find the drugs during a search incident to an arrest, but the personnel at the jail finds the drugs during a more thorough search. In that case, in addition to whatever charge the suspect was facing that prompted the initial arrest, the suspect will also face the felony charge of introducing contraband into a county facility.

However, in order to succeed on such a charge, the state must prove that the defendant knowingly introduced the contraband into the jail. Basically, the state has to prove the defendant knew he/she had the contraband on him when he/she entered the jail. Practically, the assumption will be that the defendant knew he/she had the contraband on him/her and it is up to the defense to establish that it was a mistake or he/she did not know. There are cases where the state may not be able to prove knowledge. If the defendant can show he/she was wearing old clothes or someone else's clothes or had a bag that had been in someone else's possession prior to getting booked in the jail or anything else to indicate he/she may not be aware of a small amount of drugs or other contraband in his/her clothes or personal items, the state may not be able to prove its case.

Keep in mind that this felony charge applies to more than drugs. Contraband under this criminal statute can also include unauthorized communications, money, tobacco products, alcohol and of course, weapons. It is also a felony to possess such contraband in the jail. If someone is able to bring contraband into the jail and does not get caught, a person who ultimately possesses the contraband can be charged with the felony crime.

December 5, 2014

What Does a Grand Jury Do, and How Does It Do It?

There has been a lot of publicity about grand juries due to the recent decisions involving police officers and homicides where the grand juries have decided not to move forward with indictments. Along with the publicity, there has been a lot of confusion about what grand juries do, how they do it and what they are actually deciding.

Grand juries are very different from the regular juries that participate in criminal trials. First, the few similarities. The people who make up grand juries and criminal juries generally come from the same pool in the community. They are both sworn to do their jobs, and they both listen to evidence. After that, there are significant differences. In a criminal trial, the jury gets to hear both sides, and each witness can be cross-examined by the other side's attorney. As a result, if a witness is not credible or changes his/her story, the other side's attorney will have an opportunity to question the witness, attack him/her with prior inconsistent statements and ask questions and present evidence that calls that witness's testimony into question. That is a key component to criminal trials. Both sides get to question the other side's witnesses to attack any areas the attorney believes is questionable, or an outright lie.

That does not really happen in grand juries. Both sides are not present in grand juries. Only the prosecutor is present to ask questions of witnesses in a grand jury proceedings, and he/she can be hard or easy on a witness depending on how that prosecutor wants the proceedings to go. The grand jurors can ask questions of witnesses, but they rarely do. Even if they want to, they are not likely to be experienced in cross-examination and do not have a full grasp of the evidence and the case to do a proper job of questioning a witness's credibility.

So, one critical distinction is that a grand jury witness can testify without the risk of the other side going after him/her to question the testimony. Many people have heard the statement, the prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. Basically what this means is the prosecutor controls the grand jury proceeding. He/she can present whatever evidence he/she chooses, and more importantly, he/she can present that evidence in whatever biased manner he/she chooses. So, a prosecutor can present evidence in such a way that it looks very damning against a ham sandwich and without the benefit of the other side's attorney questioning that evidence, a grand jury is likely going to with the prevailing sentiment and decide to indict that ham sandwich. That is why the grand jury decides to indict approximately 99% of the cases they hear, according to statistics compiled by Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight website. Of course, that 99% number only applies to regular people. When police officers are the subject of grand juries, that number goes down closer to 0%.

So, the inverse of the saying that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich is also true. A prosecutor can also fail to indict a criminal on any charges. It all depends on what evidence is presented, and perhaps more importantly, how the evidence is presented. As anyone who took any marketing class knows, context, delivery and presentation are critical components of persuasion.

Another key distinction is what the respective juries are there to do. Juries in criminal cases are empaneled to listen to all of the evidence from both sides and determine if the prosecution has proven that the defendant was guilty of the crime(s) charged beyond any reasonable doubt. This is a high standard. A grand jury is not there to decide if the defendant is guilty or innocent of a crime. The grand jury merely decides if there is sufficient evidence to charge the defendant so both sides can investigate further, prepare their cases and have their day in court. Practically, it is a preliminary decision that says the grand jurors think there is something to this and it should go through the normal criminal justice system process. And of course, how they are told that this is their job can certainly impact how they do that job and their ultimate decision. Make no mistake, if there is any evidence that a suspect committed a murder and you or I were that suspect, we would be indicted without delay, as that 99% figure suggests. That is true because grand jurors do not like to end murder cases or other serious criminal cases before they even go to court, and for regular people, the prosecutor is going to present that case to the grand jury in a way that encourages them to indict the case.

One final point about grand juries and high profile cases. Grand juries can be used as political tools for elected prosecutors who do not want to be held accountable for the difficult decision themselves. Different states have different rules about what cases must go to the grand jury in order for charges to be filed, but most cases do not need to be presented to a grand jury for criminal charges to be brought.

However, consider a situation where a case is getting a lot of publicity but to charge the defendant would be problematic for a prosecutor whether for political/election reasons or otherwise. The prosecutor does not want to make the decision to charge the suspect because it might upset certain large voting blocs. On the other hand, the prosecutor also knows it would look bad for him/her to just drop the charges on his/her own. The grand jury is perfect for this scenario. The prosecutor can convene a grand jury which meets secretly in a private room where the prosecution can present whatever evidence they want in whatever manner they want. The prosecution can steer the grand jury in the direction it chooses. When the grand jury decides not to indict the suspect, the prosecutor can get up in front of the media and disclaim any responsibility for the decision and defer to the grand jury. Since the other side had no representatives in the grand jury, the other side could neither attack the witnesses presented nor give their side to try and get an indictment. For that reason, the grand jury is the perfect responsibility-shifting method to get the desired result without taking any of the blame when election time comes back around.

December 2, 2014

The State Does Not Necessarily Have to Disclose Identity of Confidential Informant in Florida

In Florida, many drug trafficking and other drug crimes start when a confidential information gives information to the police about a suspect. Normally, a person is arrested for a drug crime or some other crime, and in order to improve his/her position, he/she gives information to the police about some other person allegedly involved in criminal activity. A confidential informant is exactly what it sounds like. It is a person who gives information to the police who wants to remain secret. The police also want to keep his identity secret so the person can continue to have access to the suspect without suspicion and also to protect him/her from retaliation.

In many cases, once the police get the information from the confidential informant (CI), the police go and begin their own investigation to include surveillance, undercover drug buys and search warrants. They make their drug case based on what the police observe through the surveillance, drug buys and searches. They do not necessarily use the CI to make the new case; they use him/her for preliminary information to begin their investigation. In other words, while the CI provided the information, he/she was not involved in the investigation that resulted in the charges. If this is the case, the state may not have to reveal the identity of the CI. The criminal defense lawyer may file a motion requesting the identity of the CI, but the discovery rules in Florida protect a CI from disclosure. The general rule is the state does not have to disclose the identity of the CI unless the state plans to have the CI testify at a hearing or trial. If the CI made an undercover buy or was integral to the conduct that resulted in the pending charges, it is likely that the state would have to reveal his/her identity at some point. However, if the CI was just used for information and the case was made by the police, the defendant may never know the identity of the CI throughout the course of the case.

November 29, 2014

Florida Police Try to Use "High Crime Area" to Justify Search

The constitution protects people in Florida and other states from unreasonable searches and seizures. That means the police cannot come up to a person and make demands, or search them, without specific evidence that the person is engaged in criminal activity or has evidence of criminal activity. The police often try to use the phrase "high crime area" to justify questionable searches that certainly would not be permissible in other areas. Granted, there are high crime areas in the Jacksonville, Florida area and throughout Florida, but the police cannot rely on that vague phrase alone to justify a search. The police need specific indications of criminal activity.

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police were patrolling a "high crime area" and saw a man standing in a driveway with his hands in his pockets. The police approached him and demanded that he remove his hands from his pockets. The man refused. The police then asked the man if they could search him, and he refused that as well. The police then patted him down, felt what they believed to be cocaine in his pocket, removed the item which was a bag of cocaine and arrested him for possession of cocaine.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the cocaine based on the illegality of the search. Being in a high crime area is not a basis for a search. In this case, assuming the suspect was in a high crime area, he was doing nothing else to indicate he was involved in criminal activity. When the police came up to him and demanded that he take his hands from his pockets, that becomes a seizure. In order for that to be valid, the police must have some specific evidence of criminal activity. The police can, at times, pat someone down if they believe the person may be armed and there is a police safety issues. But again, they can't just pat anyone down in a "high crime area". They still need something specific to indicate there is a danger.

The police were free to approach the man and ask him if he would consent to a search of his pockets. They don't need evidence or probable cause to just ask. However, once the man refused, they cannot move forward with a pat down or a search if they do not have the specific indicators justifying it. In this case, they did not so the evidence of the cocaine was thrown out along with the possession of cocaine charge.

November 26, 2014

Florida Statute of Limitations Does Not Run While Defendant is Continually Absent from the State

In Florida, if the state believes a person has committed a crime, there is going to be a statute of limitations attached to that case. The statute of limitations in Florida means that the state has a certain period of time from the date the crime was committed to prosecute the case. With some exceptions, if the state does not prosecute the case within the required period of time, the criminal defense lawyer can file a motion to dismiss the charges. The number of years required by the Florida statute of limitations varies depending on the criminal charge, but two to four years is fairly common.

For instance, if the state believes a person committed a misdemeanor crime and four years passes before the state arrests the suspect, that would likely be a statute of limitations issue if the suspect has been living in the state of Florida for all or most of that time. The state is obligated to conduct a diligent search to find the suspect and bring charges against him in a timely manner. The state can check driver's license records, utility records, traffic tickets and other methods to locate a suspect living in Florida. The reason behind the statute of limitations is that a suspect has a constitutional right to defend him/herself against criminal charges. If the state delays and takes too long to prosecute a suspect, witnesses may disappear or forget what happened which could compromise a defendant's ability to present a defense.

There are exceptions to the statute of limitations, however. Another way to say this is that certain events may toll the statute of limitations, or stop the time from running. For instance, the state is not required to search for a person who is out of the state of Florida for an extended period of time. Therefore, if a suspect allegedly commits a misdemeanor crime in 2010 and then leaves Florida for three years and is ultimately arrested for the crime in 2014. The defendant may not be able to use the statute of limitations to dismiss the case.

The state often does not do their job when it comes to diligently searching for suspects who are in Florida within a reasonable period of time. At Shorstein, Lasnetski & Gihon, LLC, we often get calls from people who find out they have outstanding warrants in Florida from years ago. We ask some questions and find out they have been in Florida for years, or at least long enough for the statute of limitations to run. Sometimes, they have been issued traffic citations and had other encounters with the police while the warrants were outstanding, yet they were not arrested. In those cases, we can often get the criminal cases dismissed based on the statute of limitations. If you think you might have an old warrant for your arrest and the statute of limitations might be a defense in your case, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

November 12, 2014

Shorstein, Lasnetski, & Gihon named one of U.S. News and World Report's Best Law Firms

Shorstein, Lasnetski & Gihon (formerly Shorstein & Lasnetski) was recently named as one of U.S. News and World Report's Best Law Firms in the area of Criminal Defense - White Collar, Metro division, Tier 1. Click here to see the listing. You can see the methodology used by U.S. News and World Report here.

November 10, 2014

Florida Search Warrant With Multiple Errors Upheld by the Court

In a recent drugs and marijuana case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police received a tip of illegal drug activity at a particular apartment. They conducted surveillance on the apartment and observed what they considered to be suspicious activity. They ultimately obtained a search warrant to search the apartment for drugs. The conducted the search and found marijuana and guns inside.

The criminal defense lawyer challenged the search because the search warrant had several errors in it. A search warrant must describe the place to be searched with specificity. In this case, the search warrant had the wrong street number, the wrong street name and the wrong directions to the apartment. The police presumably were still able to locate and search the correct apartment because the police were familiar with it from previous surveillance.

The purpose of requiring a proper and specific description of the place to be searched in a search warrant is to make sure the police do not have a general license to go searching a wide range of places with one warrant. A specific location is included in the warrant so it is clear that the police are only permitted to search that one specific place. Additionally, the description is important so the police actually search the correct place. If the description or other parts of the search warrant are inaccurate, the search warrant may get thrown out. If that happens, the evidence the police found as a result of the search may not be used against the defendant in court.

In this case, the appellate court decided that the search warrant was good enough. Despite the obvious errors, the court determined that the risk of searching the wrong place or searching beyond the scope of the search warrant was limited because the police were familiar with the right location through prior surveillance and experience with this apartment. The court also noted that the police did, in fact, search the correct apartment. However, if the police get a pass with a faulty warrant just based on a "no harm, no foul" type of analysis, it denigrates the important requirement that search warrants are specific and accurate.

November 7, 2014

Florida Child Molestation Conviction Reversed Due to Potential Juror Intimidation

In a recent lewd and lascivious child molestation case in Jacksonville, Florida some unorthodox activity in the courtroom caused the appellate court to reverse the jury's guilty verdict on those child molestation charges. Apparently, a biker gang wearing "Bikers Against Child Abuse" jackets congregated outside the courtroom in the presence of the jury before and during the trial and also attended the trial, although without the jackets. After the defendant was convicted of child molestation, the criminal defense lawyer appealed the verdict alleging that the presence of the bikers with the obvious anti-defendant message was designed to intimidate, and had the effect of intimidating, the jury into finding the defendant guilty. The appellate court agreed this conduct deprived the defendant of a fair trial, reversed the conviction and gave him a new trial.

One of the protections afforded to defendants by the Constitution is the right to a fair trial. This means that, in order to convict a defendant of criminal charges, the state has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The state must meet that burden by presenting evidence that proves the defendant committed the crime. The state cannot rely on any extraneous factors to help it win the case. For instance, any outside influences that might sway the jury are not permitted in court or anywhere that might have an affect on the jury. This includes people in or near the courtroom that might intimidate the jury or influence them with messages of any kind. A trial is like a closed laboratory. The jury can only rely upon those things the law allows a jury to rely upon to make its decision. Those things are the witnesses testifying under oath, any exhibits admitted into evidence, the law provided by the judge and the arguments of the attorneys. The jury cannot go home at night and investigate on the internet or in any other manner. The jury cannot resort to any outside influences at all. And no outside influences can do or say anything during the trial that might affect the jury's decision. If there is an outside influence that is likely to affect the jury, either side can ask the judge for a mistrial so the defendant can have new trial with a new jury.