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Jurors and smart phones, a troubling mix for courtroom judges

What potential jurors will be seeing from now on in Washington courtrooms.
What potential jurors will be seeing from now on in Washington courtrooms.

'OMG! Finalst 4 jury - just like American Idol! ;)'

In the age of the smart phone, courts throughout the state (and around the world really) are grappling with serious problems caused by jurors using social media sites or other online services during trials.

Now, Washington’s courts are trying new tactics to stop jurors from over-sharing.

Judge William Downing is a King County Superior Court judge and co-chair of Washington’s Jury Instructions Committee.

He said a woman on a jury recently blogged about a defense attorney:

"He exudes friendly. I want to go to lunch with him. He’s so cute!"

Focus on the courtroom

That’s why, starting this month, jurors in Washington courtrooms will see a new poster reminding them to Focus on the Courtroom. That means no to texting, emailing or blogging about the case. It also tells them to resist the urge to Google interesting factoids that come up during the trial.

"If you’re tweeting, 'The guy looks really guilty.' There’s going to be more evidence that comes forward in the case and you need to have an open mind as that evidence is coming in and if you’ve expressed premature opinions about things then that’s really damaging to the fairness of the process."

So far, in Washington, no cases have been dismissed or overturned due to a juror’s compulsion to share but as the Seattle Weekly wrote about in a post from a year ago, it's come pretty close.

In this case, the juror simply noted on Twitter that he'd been selected for jury duty in the first-degree murder trial of Myron Wynn, The Weekly wrote. When Judge Ramsdell found out, he lost it, reportedly saying he was "dumbfounded, appalled and annoyed," before continuing: "How many different ways to Sunday do I have to tell people not to communicate?"

 One can only imagine this will become a bigger problem for the court system, and as social media becomes more ubiquitous avoiding a mistrial will only get harder.

Other courtroom/social media Faux Pas

From the Washington Post:Erickson Dimas-Martinez’s attorney told justices the juror was tweeting during her client’s 2010 trial for the slaying of Derrick Jefferson.

In one tweet during the trial, juror Randy Franco wrote: “Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken ... We each define the great line.” Less than an hour before the jury announced its verdict, he tweeted: “It’s over.”
Other tweets by Franco made passing references to the trial, with posts such as, “the coffee sucks here” and “Court. Day 5. Here we go again.”

Another case in Arkansas in March of this year:

Stoam Holdings, a building materials company in Fayetteville, Ark., has appealed a $12.6 million dollar verdict rendered for mismanaging investor funds. The argument is that one of the jurors was biased. The evidence is in the Twitter history of Juror Johnathan Powell.

Relevant Tweets:

  • Tweet: Well, i finally got called for jury duty.  It is kinda exciting.
  • Tweet: Trying to learn about Jury duty for tomorrow, but all searches lead me to Suggestions for getting out of it, instead of rocking it.
  • Tweet: I guess I’m early.  Two Angry Men just won’t do.
  • Tweet: So Johnathan, what did you do today?  Oh, nothing really.  I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else’s money.
  • Tweet: Oh, and nobody buy Stoam.  It’s bad mojo, and they’ll probably cease to exist, now that their wallet is $12M lighter.

On the Web: