A judge recently held that a juror's inappropriate tweets during trial were not sufficient grounds to overturn a defendant's criminal conviction for murder. The key point for the judge is that the juror did not tweet about facts in the case. However, the juror did tweet from the jury box and send tweets such as:
In my book, everybody’s guilty until proven innocent.
It will be interesting to see whether this ruling will be upheld on appeal.
A Memphis juror was sentenced to 10 days in jail (9 days were suspended) for communicating with a criminal defendant via Facebook. Interestingly, despite the social media interaction, the juror along with the other members of the jury still found the defendant guilty of aggravated robbery. To read more about this case go here.
Apparently, there has been some follow up investigation on the Darnell Dockett jury story. As some will recall, media outlets were reporting earlier this week about Dockett's so-called live tweeting from the jury room. I also did a post on it.
However, there is some question about whether his tweets were entirely true. According to the article below, Docket did not have jury duty in either Maricopa County, AZ or Miami-Dade County, FL. Also, the picture he allegedly tweeted from the courthouse has been traced to an earlier 2013 photo from Skagit County, WA. If you look closely, you can see the Washington state flag in the background.
Two attorneys from the firm of Heidell, Pittoni, Murphy & Bach have written a very good article on jurors and social media. Among other things, the article provides an excellent overview of the current state of the law.
A federal district court this week, in U.S. v. Liu et. al, upheld the conviction of three defendants two of whom were attorneys for immigration fraud despite the fact that two different jurors sent out trial-related tweets. The first juror was dismissed prior to deliberations so that juror was less of an issue. The second juror was not removed and thus serves as the basis for the defendant's motion for a new trial. In dismissing the defendant's motion the trial judge determined that
When the embrace of social media is ubiquitous, it cannot be surprising that examples of jurors using platforms like Facebook and Twitter "are legion." United States v. Fumo. And because of the risks inherent in such ac- tivity, "vigilance on the part of trial judges is warranted." Ganias, 755 F.3d at 132. On this record, however, Defendants' claim must fail. Juror2 was an attentive juror who,while engaging in banter with fellow Twitter users about her experience, was nonetheless careful never to discuss the sub- stance of the case, as instructed by the Court. The record is devoid of any evidence that she was either dishonest or biased, or that Defendants were prejudiced by her tweets in any way.
I think the trial judge got it right here. In the Digital Age, it is naive to believe that jurors are going to forego social media throughout the trial; it has become too omnipresent. The key is to see if the juror starts to discuss or get into the merits of the case.
An Iowa appellate court (State v. Webster) overturned a defendant's murder conviction because of improper conduct by a juror to include interacting with the victim's mother on Facebook. Interestingly, it was the defendant's wife who discovered the Facebook information.
The third witness was Webster’s wife, who testified she had heard from a number of people “that there was a particular juror that was discussing things and who had actually said . . . that she knew the Frisbie family, but they never asked her directly, so . . . she didn’t say anything.” Webster’s wife testified she looked at Juror’s comments and activity on Facebook, and Webster’s wife printed the pages she found where Juror had commented or “Like[d]” a post posted on Facebook by Frisbie’s mother.3 The printed pages were offered and admitted into evidence.
At least one media outlet in Cleveland is reporting that a paralegal has been dimissed from a murder case because of her Facebook Friends List which included the county prosecutor and other high level officials in the prosecutor's office. Interestingly, it was the prosecution who informed the court about the juror's Facebook Friends List. When this information was initially revealed the defense requested a mistrial but the trial judge decided to just replace the juror and start deliberations over from scratch.
I presume that the juror's Facebook page was private, which is why the defense did not discover the Friends List. If it was available to the public and the defense failed to review the page then the defendant (if convicted) would have had a decent ineffective assistance of counsel claim, especially in light of the fact that this defendant might face the death penalty. Investigating jurors online is increasingly becoming the norm for many attorneys.
If anyone needed further proof that social media has dramatically impacted jurors and jury service, I recommend reading a recent article from the SF Gate entitled Hashtag fail: Dear jurors, please stop live-tweeting your #juryduty. In the article, the author gives would-be jurors helpful hints on how to tweet properly while serving as a juror. Interestingly, the author's tips are based on actual tweets from jurors.