Juror’s Twitter use in court may cause mistrial

March 16, 2009

Juror's Twitter use in court may cause mistrial As technology progresses, new ways of reaching out to the online community arise. Twitter is one of those powerful services where users can post messages on the fly via cell phone from anywhere in the world for the public to see. A defendant in a recent court trial is calling for a mistrial based on one of the juror’s tweets made during the proceedings.

Twitter is considered to be micro-blogging, and is placed into the same category as other social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. The service has been receiving high visibility lately due to its powerful capability to provide near real-time coverage of events and news. Due to its high visibility this technology could raise concerns as indicated in the case of the court trial.

Stoam Holdings, a building materials company in Little Rock, Arkansas, is calling for a mistrial citing one of the juror’s tweeting as the cause. Russell Wright the owner of Stoam Holdings lost approximately $12 million in a court case. Apparently Jonathan Powell, a Wal-Mart employee was tweeting before, during and after the court proceedings.

Wright argues that Powell’s Twitter posts show that he held bias against the defendant before it was time to deliberate. Since jurors are meant to go in without bias or prejudice and only deliberate after hearing everything out, there could be some validity for concern if Powell’s tweets show bias.

According to Ars Technica, Powell feels that he has done nothing wrong since he followed all of the rules laid out to him by the judge. Jurors were allowed to use cell phones during breaks and they were not to research anything about the court trial to prevent bias. Since tweeting is a one-way service, it is hard to argue that bias was externally introduced to Powell.

Some of the comments made by Powell via his Twitter are:

4:09pm – “‘So, Johnathan, what did you do today?’ Oh, nothing really. I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else’s money!”

4:43pm – “Oh, and nobody buy Stoam. It’s bad mojo, and they’ll probably cease to exist, now that their wallet is $12M lighter.”

Powell argues that since his tweets were made after the verdict was delivered in court it should not be used to argue for a mistrial. However, Wright and his lawyers are using Powell’s tweets to get a new trial anyway. It is difficult to say if there is any merit in Wright’s actions or if his arguments are baseless, the fact remains Twitter may be throwing a new twist into the justice system.

The courts may prevent jurors from getting information from the outside world, but is it fine to leak information out to the world? The courts probably wouldn’t want jurors to hold a three ring circus outside while the juror is still in court. Also, I would assume that there could be safety concerns associated with putting one’s opinion out there for something as high profile as court trials. It will be interesting to see how courts deal with such issues going forward.

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One Response to “Juror’s Twitter use in court may cause mistrial”

  1. David Miron (Soluto):

    Trial By Twitter (CARTOON)

    Check out my CARTOON and post on this story.
    http://www.pcdisorder.com/2009/03/trial-by-twitter.html

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