In my last blog post, I discussed some of the problems associated with jurors’ ever-increasing use of social media during trials. In a follow-up to that post, let me tell you about a jam that juror got himself into when he added a female defendant to his list of friends on Facebook.
In this situation, Jonathan Hudson sent a Facebook friend request to Courtney Downing. Sounds normal, right? Well there was only one problem: Downing was a defendant in a case involving a car accident, and Hudson just happened to be a juror in the very same trial. Downing reported the friend request to her attorney who, in turn, reported it to the judge. The judge then dismissed Hudson from the jury immediately. Rather than learn his lesson and cease all communications with Downing, Hudson, after being dismissed from the case, contacted Downing again on Facebook, only this time he pretended to have befriended the wrong Courtney Downing. This resulted in Hudson’s pleading guilty to contempt charges. A news article states that Hudson could have faced up to six months in jail, but the court sentenced him to 16 hours of community service to be determined by the court bailiff.
In many states, judges are required to read a series of instructions to jurors before a trial begins. Texas recently took the step of adding specific language concerning misuse of social media to the instructions that judges read to potential jurors before a trial can begin. This instruction specifically discusses the issues of Facebook and Twitter status updates with details about an ongoing trial. As a recent news article attests quite accurately, most jury trials include many lengthy periods of monotonous down time where jurors are basically left to pass the time amongst themselves with little or no interaction with the outside world. In order to break up their boredom, many jurors resort to Facebook and Twitter and communicate with friends and family about the cases on which they are serving.
So, again, if you are serving as a juror in a case, obey the judge’s instructions concerning social media usage. Don’t use the “smart” features of your smartphone during a trial! Otherwise the judge may toss you in jail and throw away the key!