You may have seen a recent article about a jury member, Jacob Jock, who sent a friend request to a defendant on an auto negligence trial he was enpanelled on. He claimed that he accidentally hit the “friend request” instead of the “mutual friends” button when doing a search on the defendant in response to the request for a declaration of whether the jurors knew anyone associated with the trial. OK, maybe plausible – stupid but maybe. He then failed to bring the “accident” to the attention of the court (later saying he hoped the defendant would forget about it) and instead waited until the defendant brought it to the attention of her lawyer.
Initially he was just dismissed from the jury – until he then posted :
“Score … I got dismissed!! apparently they frown upon sending a friend request to the defendant … haha.”
Hmmm. Clearly not the sharpest tool in the toolbox.
But there are others. IN the UK, a juror, Joanne Fraill, was jailed for 8 months for chatting about the trial on Facebook with the defendant in a drugs trial. (The defendant also got 2 months for contempt.) In her own trial Fraill claimed she contacted the defendant because she empathised with his life – however her message
“…pleeeeeese don’t say anything cause jamie they could all miss trial and I will get 4cked to0” (sic)
seems to indicate that she knew she was doing the wrong thing and was jeopardising the entire trial. The defendants’ co-defendant Gary Knox is apparently now appealing his guilty verdict on the same grounds (juror misconduct).
Not only is it illegal to contact defendants and other participants in a trial before or during a trial, it is also illegal to conduct your own research. A difficult task in these days of the ubiquitous Google. However, University lecturer Theodora Dallas discovered this to her detriment. She is now spending 6 months in prison for contempt of court for not only conducting her own online research, but also sharing it with other jurors. She claimed that because it was on the internet it was “public knowledge”. Of course a university lecturer in particular should know that what is on the internet is not necessarily (shock, horror) unbiased fact. Present blog excepted of course. And also that jurors shouldn’t be conducting their own research.
In Detroit,. a 20-year-old woman, Hadley Jons, posted her guilty verdict prior to the jury entering deliberations “Gonna be fun to tell the defendant they’re guilty.” Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-20015175-71.html#ixzz1mmayXNKC . Prior to the prosecution completing their presentation of the case, in fact. An interesting definition of the word “fun” is in operation here. Now she is waiting to find out if she will be found guilt of contempt of court. In this case the defense lawyer’s son happened upon the message when he was – yes, you guessed it – online researching the jurors. (And as an aside, if she had set her Facebook settings higher she might have got away with it.)
And although I can’t find the original information on this one, it is so amazing, I include it here with a link to the article. In 2008 in the UK a juror in a sexual misconduct trial was unsure of what her decision was so she held a FACEBOOK POLL. Unbelievable!
Technology is increasingly impacting on legal trials, and it would seem, the jurors are often the weakest link. You may be familiar with the impact that crime shows have had upon the legal system (the so-called CSI effect) – criminals have learned how to hide the evidence, and jurors expect water-tight cases to be put before them, complete with DNA. Now it is social media’s turn.
In November 2011 the US Federal Judicial System published a report into the use of social media by jurors during trials and deliberations. Thirty judges answered a questionnaire about their experiences, with 9 of them responding that they had had issues with jurors using social media during trials. Unfortunately, no juicy or bizarre stories included in this report, but some interesting tables:
And keep in mind this was a small sample size and related only to those that the judges had become aware of. An anonymous questionnaire for jurors may have rendered different results. (It would also be nice to know what was in “other”.)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if it is illegal off-line, then it’s illegal online. Lawyers who discover juror social media misconduct are bound to report it, and it would seem from earlier cases that defendants and other jurors have also reported breaches. And the lawyers are probably online researching potential jurors for jury selection. Posted any comments on recent newsworthy events? “Liked” any groups lately? Reposted any dubious jokes or sayings? All this information may indicate to the lawyers what sort of person you are, what your prejudices or opinions are and how receptive you may be to the defendant. And if you have made comments on the case, that will probably come to light as well.
A 2010 article by Reuters Legal stated that 90 trial verdicts had been challenged in the US due to social media influence since 1999. Not a massive number, but then Facebook only existed since 2004 and Twitter came into being in 2006. So you will be unsurprised to know that the rate of juror social media transgression is escalating exponentially: more than half of the cases found by Reuters occurred between 2008 and 2010. It’s a growing trend – or perhaps just trending. In 28 cases the challenges resulted in new trials or overturned verdicts. And of course the untold millions of dollars in additional court costs.
The (US) Committee on Court Administration and Case Management has distributed model instructions for judges to use in instructing the jury on the use of social media. The instructions from the trial judge in the Conrad Murray case for the death of Michael Jackson are here. However short of sequestering jurors for the entire trial, removing or jamming all of their electronic devices, it would seem that this is a problem that is here to stay. Apparently common sense, respect for the legal process, and a sense of ethics cannot be relied upon.
At least someone has taken a novel approach to solving that problem: “Have to turn off phone before going into courtroom,” said a tweet…from @BennyAce [Lee Aronsohn, the co-creator and executive producer of Two and a Half Men]. “Apparently it can interfere with the judge’s navigation instruments.”
A short list of cases is at the bottom of this article (including the woman who said the judge had told her not to tweet but hadn’t mentioned blogging….so presumably she thought that was OK), or try googling “juror, social media, mistrial” and see the hits come up! Or conduct your own research on Twitter searching for ” jury”.