When I was a kid, I often heard the old adage “be careful what you wish for.” Well, now that I am an attorney I have a legal adage to add: Be careful what you tweet. The recent growth in popularity of mobile forms of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, has led to problems in jury trials across the country. As jurors have become more tech savvy, there has been a rise in the number of mistrials that have been declared in cases where jurors have tweeted information about trials in which they are currently serving as jurors.
Think it sounds harmless and innocuous? It isn’t. In some cases, people’s lives, literally, are at stake. For example, the Arkansas Supreme Court recently vacated a death row inmate’s murder conviction and ruled that he deserves a new trial because one juror slept and another tweeted during the trial. In this case, a juror sent tweets despite the judge’s prohibiting all of the jurors from posting anything on the Internet or communicating with anyone about the case. In one tweet, a jury in the trial posted: “Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken…We each define the great line.” Less than an hour before the jury returned with a verdict, that juror tweeted, “It’s over.” Other tweets referenced the trial itself such as “the coffee sucks here” and “Court. Day 5. Here we go again.”
Associate Justice Donald Corbin reasoned, “Because of the very nature of Twitter as an …online social media site, Juror 2′s tweets about the trial were very much public discussions. Even if such discussions were one-sided, it is in no way appropriate for a jury to state musings, thoughts, or other information about a case in such a public fashion.” The high court further noted that this specific juror had been given specific notice that tweeting was in violation of court rules for the trial. The state Supreme Court was particularly troubled that the juror continued to tweet during the trial even after he had been questioned about the fact of whether he had tweeted during the trial.
The moral of this story is that if you are serving on a jury, be sure to listen and obey the judge’s instructions. If you violate the judge’s instructions about something you think is harmless and trivial, it might actually get you in a lot of trouble and it could result in a mistrial or worse. So if you are a juror in a trial, you may want to think twice about posting on the Internet or tweeting during a trial.