The Massachusetts Appeals Court passed an edict making it necessary for judges to explicitly mention the Internet and social media sites when instructing juries to refrain from discussing their cases. The Court ruled that jurors should not post comments on sites like Facebook and Twitter relating to trials on which they are sitting. The rationale behind this ruling is that online discussions can, and already have, lead to a mistrial.
Appealing To Jurors Financial Sensibilities When Explaining The Negative Effects Of A Mistrial
Not only do jurors need to be informed that online chat constitutes ‘discussing’ a case, but judges have also been told to make sure that juries understand why. Judges have to explain the consequences of a mistrial, that it means having a new trial and spending taxpayers’ money.
In late 2011, the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction of a death-row inmate because a juror had Tweeted while in the jury box and in the deliberation room. Another juror had slept through segments of expert testimony. Erickson Dimas-Martinez was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to death for the 2006 murder of Derrick Jefferson, aged 17. The defense claimed that the accused had been deprived of a fair trial. The sleeping juror was later found guilty of misconduct.
While the messages sent by the Tweeting juror were fairly benign and did not take place during the guilt phase of the trial, but rather the sentencing phase, the possibility existed that her remarks could be commented upon by a third party. It is not unreasonable that the juror would be exposed to outside influence. As a result of the verdict being reversed, not only will taxpayers have to foot the bill for the jurors’ actions, but the family of the deceased, who may have gained a measure of closure when the original verdict was announced, will now have their partly healed wounds torn open again.
Jurors And Social Media In The UK
In the United Kingdom, the Lord Chief Justice, Baron Igor Judge, ruled in 2011 that jurors must be jailed for misusing the Internet during trials. Lord Judge announced the ruling after sentencing juror, Joanne Fraill, to prison for eight months for chatting with a defendant on Facebook, resulting in the collapse of the £6million drug trial. The 40-year-old had exchanged 50 messages with the defendant, Jamie Stewart, at Manchester Crown Court. She revealed sensitive information about the deliberations in the course of those communications. Ms Fraill also admitted to conducting research into Gary Knox, Ms Stewart’s boyfriend, while the jury was conducting its deliberations.
It was Juror Fraill who initiated the Internet discussion by contacting Stewart the day after her acquittal. Stewart told her she would receive ‘a nice pressie’ if she was eventually awarded compensation for having been held on remand. A remorseful Stewart made a confession to her solicitor and the judge halted the case. Charges against Fraill were brought by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC.
So, if you get called up for jury duty, whether you live in Massachusetts or anywhere else in the United States, if you want to cover yourself, make sure you don’t take to Twitter or Facebook to discuss during the trial.