Boston, MA criminal defense lawyer, Kevin J. Mahoney, discusses the unsettling trend of jurors using social media to comment on an ongoing trial.
Despite the fact that judges routinely and repeatedly warn jurors not to discuss the case with anyone outside the courtroom, jurors often do. Recently, they have been doing so electronically, on Facebook or other forms of social media.
Consider, for example, the case of Commonwealth v. Werner. Ms. Werner was convicted of stealing money from the college where she worked as a bookkeeper. After the trial, Ms. Werner’s attorney discovered that two of the jurors had posted on Facebook about their jury service and received comments about those posts. Armed with this information, defense counsel moved for a new trial. The trial judge concluded that the jurors had not been unduly influenced by the postings or comments, and denied Ms. Werner a new trial. On appeal, the court found the situation so troublesome that the judges took the opportunity to call for more explicit instructions to jurors, specifically prohibiting the use of social media to discuss aspects of the trial or their jury service, and warning against researching, describing, or discussing the case “on- or off-line.”
There is good reason for criminal defendants to be concerned about this issue. The integrity of a jury verdict depends on the jurors considering the evidence presented at trial, and deliberating amongst themselves to reach a verdict based solely upon that evidence. The evidence presented at trial is deemed reliable because it is tested by cross-examination and vetted by the rules of evidence. Information obtained outside the courtroom, including information available on the Internet or through social media, cannot pass this threshold of reliability. It might be incomplete, inaccurate or flat-out wrong.
Presently, the onus is on jurors to police themselves and defense attorneys to keep a vigilant watch. Courts are, however, taking steps to address this issue. Following the Werner decision, the Massachusetts Trial Jurors’ Handbook was amended to advise individuals chosen to serve on a jury: “Do not use online social media to share or read information about the case or your experience with jury service. Do not look for information about the case outside the courtroom, or use the internet to do research about the case or the people involved in it.” The American Bar Association also has issued model instructions that judges may choose to give to jurors before and during the trial. The model instructions advise jurors: “You can only discuss the case in the jury room with your fellow jurors during deliberations,” and specifically prohibit the use of a long list of electronic communication tools and the “technology of social media.”
Contact Boston, MA criminal defense lawyer, Kevin J. Mahoney
An experienced Boston criminal defense lawyer will work to safeguard your best interests and protect your legal rights as your case moves through the criminal justice system. I am a relentless advocate, with a long and successful trial record. If you would like to meet with me to discuss your situation, please call 617-492-0055 to schedule a free consultation.
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