What Are the Risks of Jurors Using Social Media?

Post by Randall Ryder

This past week, a juror was charged with contempt of court after she talked about a guilty verdict on Facebook before the verdict was read. Should jurors be forbidden from using social media?

In the case this week, juror posting a comment on Facebook that said  "actually excited for jury tomorrow . . . it’s gonna be fun to tell the defendant they’re guilty. :p" At that point in the case, the defense had not presented their case.

Before the post was deleted, however, the court had been informed of the posting. Upon questioning from the judge, the juror denied it and then refused to respond. The judge criticized the juror’s actions and then removed her from the jury. The judge punished the juror by requiring her to write a five-page essay on the Constitutional right to a fair trial, telling her "You violated your oath . . . [y]ou had decided she was already guilty without hearing the other side . . ."

Some may say this is a unique situation and that this rarely happens. But given the prevalence of social media, is that really the case? Many users of social media, from Twitter to Facebook, post countless updates during the day discussing what they are doing, how they are feeling, etc. In theory, a defense could object to even the most seemingly innocent posts if they appear to have violated the Defendant’s right to a fair trial.

On the flip side, if jurors can be trusted to not discuss the case outside of the courtroom, shouldn’t they be trusted to not discuss it on social media as well? Perhaps the danger of social media is that it does not seem as "real." For whatever reason, people feel more free in their thoughts online than they do offline. A person might be willing to say something (or ask something) online that they would not feel comfortable doing offline. 

Some may think that making an off the cuff comment on Facebook cannot possibly violate a Defendant’s rights. At the same time, what if another juror saw that comment? Or what if someone commented on that commented and that made a juror change their opinion about something in the case? Isn’t that the entire rationale behind having jurors swear that they will not talk about a case outside of the courtroom? 

It is a tricky topic and it is likely to become more complex in the future. What do you think?

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