Jurors’ Facebook Posts Get Day in Court

Jurors’ Facebook Posts Get Day in Court

A California court will examine the rights of jurors and social media activity, questioning online privacy when public interest is at stake.

A Sacramento, Calif.-based court will hear an appeal later this month on a case over whether a juror must turn over Facebook posts made during a trial. If one particular juror’s posts about the trial constitute misconduct, it could overturn a conviction in a multi-defendant assault case.

Both Twitter and Facebook posts caused issues in trials, even causing some verdicts to get thrown out, such as in a recent Arkansas murder case. As the law tests individual cases to see what juror behavior is appropriate or what is a violation, the verdicts will forge new territory over jurors and social media use while serving.

In the California case, the juror originally lost, and the court ordered him to turn over the Facebook posts, as the defense attorneys in the trial are hoping to use them as grounds to overturn the conviction. But on appeal, the juror’s attorney asserts giving up the posts violates Fourth Amendment privacy rights and Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

The juror admits to making a post describing testimony on phone records as boring, and saying how many days he was serving jury duty, according to a Reuters report. The juror also says he deleted some of the entries, but Facebook’s attorneys gave him and his legal team a transcript of all posts to allow him to turn them over at his own free will.

The case has the potential to set up a new precedent for rules for jurors during trials for online behavior, and setting limits on how far courts and attorneys can go to prove such misconduct occurred.

“The case involves the significant and novel issue of whether a trial court’s power to investigate a claim of juror misconduct includes the power to compel an accused juror to forfeit the protections the juror would otherwise enjoy under the federal Stored Communications Act,” said the California Attorney General’s Office.

Before a trial begins, judges instruct jurors not to communicate about the case, to family, friends or other jurors. But when people Facebook and Tweet any and all details of their life at their own discretion, sharing facts, no matter how seemingly inane, chatting about jury duty may feel rather normal despite the threat to a fair trial it can cause.

The results of the California case could leave jurors open to investigation in future matters if they are prone to share details through social media, especially if the case proceeds to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some jurors likely surmise details shared on a Facebook page aren’t going to affect the outcome of the case, but recent events suggest otherwise. In Florida, a court kicked a man off a jury after sending a Facebook friend request to a defendant in a car-crash trial.

Courts are also always aware of juror behavior and social media. Roughly three-quarters of the judges who responded to a survey from the Federal Judicial Center said they had no way of knowing whether jurors had violated a social-media ban, says The Wall Street Journal. Such instances are causing some attorneys to think ahead, like Illinois-based attorney Joel Brodsky requesting Facebook and Twitter handles of jurors in order to monitor conduct during the course of the trial.

As cases in juror misconduct shift from talking or reading about the case to Tweeting or posting about it, courts will determine what behavior, if any, is appropriate — under jurors’ rights, and the rights of the defendant to a fair trial.

The California case will help determine if the court has a right to search the juror’s Facebook page when it suspects misconduct. Jurors in future cases should proceed with caution when using the trial as status fodder, or risk an investigation by federal courts.

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