I read an article in the Palm Beach Post today about a juror who was arrested in the courtroom on May 20, 2014 after posting numerous comments on Facebook about the trial he was serving as a juror on. That juror, 24-year old Alexander Sutton, may face up to six months in jail as a result. The article further discussed the fact that more and more jurors are ignoring repeated instructions from judges to stay off of social media as it relates to the trial. You can read the article here.
In this particular case, the juror had posted specific information about the trial itself, but the court and the Bronx personal injury attorney involved refused to divulge specifically what those comments were. However, the article cited various comments found across social media by plaintiffs’ attorneys, including, “Everyone is so money hungry that they’ll do anything for it”and “I wish I wasn’t a citizen right now. I could give two [expletive] about jury duty.”
The intersection of social media and jury trials has been on a collision course for the past several years. Judges and lawyers have recognized that people are addicted to social media, and the law has evolved such that today all jurors are sternly instructed not to use social media to comment on any aspect of the trial. However, jurors continue to violate that instruction. In a world where people are so accustomed to broadcasting everything from the specifics of their morning coffee to frustration with coworkers on the web, asking jurors to pause that ingrained practice is almost like asking them not to blink. The habit of publicizing unfiltered thought has become so automatic that instruction to refrain is often just as automatically ignored.
Thus, lawyers who try cases today invariably monitor the jurors’ interaction with social media to ensure that the jurors on their case have not violated the judge’s clear prohibition that “Thou shall not comment about this case on social media”. That is what happened in this particular case–the attorney for the plaintiff brought the juror’s social media activity to the attention of the judge, and the juror was subsequently arrested.
In our office we always monitor the social media postings of any juror in any case that we have on trial. We can only view their public page, and we are prohibited from trying to “friend” that juror, so as to gain entry into their private pages. Can you imagine what the result would be if we were able to view their private pages? If so, a lot more jurors might be escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs. Look out!
The point of this message is to demonstrate that people today are so addicted to social media that they will post things that are not only in violation of the law, but of basic human civility. Yes, we have a constitutional right to free speech, but as we all know that does not enable us to go into a movie theater and scream “Fire!”. But what about a juror’s right to publicly comment about trials? Does that count as free speech? What do you think of this juror’s behavior and subsequent arrest? I would be interested to hear the thoughts, comments, or suggestions of our readers. Let’s start the conversation.