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Social media should be out of order in the courtroom

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on March 11, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
March 9, 2012 4:54 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

We can all probably agree that there are a few places where it’s inappropriate to tweet or post something to Facebook about what’s going on.

The bathroom comes  immediately to mind. Talk about oversharing.

But what about the courtroom? Increasingly, cases are being affected – and verdicts overturned – because some jurors are all too eager to share their opinions through social media like Twitter and Facebook. And according to a Wall Street Journal report, attorneys are even searching social media for comments that could provide fodder for costly new trials or appeals. Consider a few examples:

•An Arkansas man was found guilty of murder in March 2010. But the conviction was thrown out in December when it was found that a juror had been tweeting about the trial.

• Five members of a Maryland jury – the so-called “Facebook Five” –  communicated with each other about the case they were hearing via Facebook, prompting the defendant to seek a new trial.

• A Florida juror was sentenced in February to three days in jail for contempt of court because he had “friended” a defendant on Facebook in the case he was hearing. A Texas juror who “friended” a plaintiff  was sentenced to two days of community service.

• A California appeals court will decide this month whether a juror in a gang case should divulge Facebook records to attorneys seeking to overturn their clients’ 2010 convictions. The juror had been posting during the trial.

Obviously some jurors have a hard time with boundaries. And the problem only looks to get worse as the younger generation – which practically grew up on social media – comes of age and is summoned to serve on juries.

It’s incumbent on judges to control their courtrooms and lay down the law to jurors from Day 1: No social media communication on the case they’re hearing or risk being held in contempt of court, fines and jail time.

The alternative – forcing the public to foot the bill for new trials and appeals – is an unacceptable price to pay just because some people are too preoccupied with tweeting and friending.

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