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Archive for the ‘Social Media and the Courts’ Category

Out of the Darlene Green trial comes tweeting juror

Monday, May 7th, 2012

On Friday, jurors weighing the case of Darlene Marie Green returned with a verdict of guilt on the charge of manslaughter. We had a story, in case you missed it, chronicling the jury’s decision.

As a reporter, I always like to discuss the trial with the jurors who handled it. But in this case, they were out the door before I left the courtroom. (Note: if any would want to discuss their feelings on the case, I’m all ears. Just drop a note to jfarley@kitsapsun.com.)

There was one juror in the case, though, that took to his Twitter account following the verdict. In fact, @adamoffburwell replied to my tweet of “The jury has reached a verdict in the case of Darlene Green,” with “yes we did,” and said he was juror No. 7.

@Adamoffburwell posted several tweets about his experience serving on the jury, including: “I felt the jury did its job in the darlene green case and didnt take the easy road.” I’ll let you see the rest for yourself.


Jurors! Focus on the Courtroom!

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

A new marketing campaign is underway in our courts. But you won’t likely see it unless you A) read this blog or B) get called for jury duty.

The campaign comes in response to our nation’s embrace of social media in all facets of life. The courts, always lethargic in keeping up with the times, have only begun to channel juror social media behavior so as to preserve the integrity and impartiality of the jury.

Here’s the latest by way of our own courts in Washington: a poster.

In short, it’s message: Focus on the courtroom! (As you can see.)

Here’s the press release from Washington Courts:

Recent headlines point to a new concern for courts: “Judge to Juror: Stop tweeting about the murder trial”; “Jurors ‘friending’ each other on Facebook” and “Googling juror prompts court to overturn jury verdict”.

In the age of social media, with smart phones at our fingertips every day, sharing a ‘status update’ on the experience of serving as a juror may be the instinctive response.

Starting this month, jurors in Washington courtrooms will see a new poster designed to remind jurors of their critical role in assuring a fair trial — and the importance of refraining from researching a case online or commenting on social media sites while the trial is ongoing.
“We recognize that, in their normal 21st century lives, jurors may routinely post information about all of their activities on websites and are probably accustomed to using the internet to get quick answers to any question that might arise,” said King County Superior Court Judge William Downing Co-Chair of the Washington State Pattern Jury Instructions Committee.
“Because these are such natural impulses in our electronic age, jurors will benefit from a gentle reminder that their duty to provide a fair trial requires them to postpone these activities until after their trial is finished.”
This is a critical point. The U.S. Constitution requires impartial juries, meaning that jurors must be unbiased, must refrain from prematurely forming or discussing opinions about the case, and must base their decisions solely on the information received in the courtroom.
The poster cautions jurors to avoid outside information about the case from the internet or other sources, and not to text, e-mail, blog, or discuss the case with family or friends.

The poster was created by the Washington Pattern Jury Instructions Committee, with private funds at no cost to taxpayers.

So, there you have it. Any thoughts on the poster?


Lawyers increasingly checking social media sites to assess jurors

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Surprise, surprise: The wealth of information many of us post about our lives on social media sites is being eyed by lawyers.

Last fall during jury selection in a murder case in Kitsap County Superior Court, prosecutors asked the potential triers-of-fact if they regularly “blogged” at newspaper web sites. The motivation by the state’s lawyers was to analyze their points of view to see if they could be impartial jurors.

Fast forward to this year in Maryland, where prosecutors argued successfully to redact juror candidates’ names prior to trial, to keep defense attorneys from Googling them before trial, according to a story in the Baltimore Sun. The judge signed off on the request.

It goes without saying that the more we participate in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, the more of our lives become transparent.  They create records of our interactions, our ideas and our beliefs.

Police regularly Google suspects’ names during law enforcement investigations. So do we in the media world for the stories we write. I’d guess most people have conducted an Internet search or two (or many) to learn more about others.

So it is without surprise that our nation’s legal minds are also mining the Internet. Any information that could give them an edge — from finding evidence on Facebook that supports their case  to rooting out a juror that shows his bias commenting on news stories — is fair game.

Will there be courtroom rules to officiate such searching? So far, our judicial system, which moves far slower than technology, hasn’t caught up.


Bremerton Municipal Court Skypes its First Witness

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

In the hustle and bustle of these past couple weeks, I didn’t want to forget to mention a technological breakthrough that occurred Friday in Bremerton Municipal Court.

A witness took the virtual stand.

To elaborate, Hsushi Yeh, a Tacoma-based ophthalmologist, was called to the stand to testify to the vision of Mark Lewis. Lewis, a prominent local jazz musician, was convicted of obstructing police Monday, in a trial where his vision was scrutinized.

Yeh couldn’t make it to Bremerton, so Judge James Docter authorized his testimony via Skype. It was a first for the new Bremerton courthouse opened last September.

Could this be a sign of things to come? I’m thinking about the money that could potentially be saved in instances where a witness wouldn’t have to travel sometimes great distances to testify in court.

In Port Orchard, Kitsap County’s district court is already using video appearances from jail so officials don’t have to transport inmates handcuffed together into court.

Kitsap County District Court Administrator Maury Baker said that there are “intense conversations,” amongst the judges about bringing in the capacity to let witnesses testify from afar. He believes the technology would have great benefits and could start in less serious legal arenas, like traffic court. For instance, what if someone from out of state got a ticket here and wanted to fight it — without having to fly back out here?

From there, it could be expanded, likely as long as attorneys on both sides of a case agree to it.

“It’s a brave new world,” he said.

Kitsap County Superior Court Administrator Frank Maiocco said at present, the county’s highest court doesn’t have the technology — a TV with an internet connection — that would make Skyping a witness possible. But he acknowledges that courtrooms in the future could be equipped to make it possible.

Assuming, though, that the judicial powers-that-be are ready for it, he added.

“The technology has changed,” Maiocco said. “The the question is, will the culture?”


Mustard Trial Update: Prosecutors Close to Resting Case

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

The prosecution of Daniel J. Mustard for the murder of Ruby Andrews continues this week in Kitsap County Superior Court.

Prosecutors are continuing to put witnesses on the stand that back up deputy prosecutor Kevin Kelly’s opening argument: that the killing was an “act of greed and violence,” and Mustard told many others of the brutal homicide and how he’d committed it. That includes people he was with the day of the murder and jail inmates he’d told after he was arrested, as well as several hours of telephone calls being played for jurors.

The case hinges upon Mustard’s mental state at the time of the crime. There is no dispute of the fact that Mustard stabbed Ruby Andrews, 87 to death at her South Kitsap home on April 5, 2009.

Deputy prosecutor Kevin Hull told me Tuesday that the prosecution is close to closing its own case and that could happen as early as Thursday.

On Monday, the defense plans to call Dr. Mark Whitehill to the stand, Hull said. Keep in mind that defense attorney Bryan Hershman bears the burden to prove to jurors that while Mustard committed the act, his mental state was diminished to the point he couldn’t comprehend his actions.

That means that once the defense finishes with its case, prosecutors will be able to rebut the insanity argument — and plans to do so sometime after Thanksgiving with nationally known forensic expert Dr. Park Dietz.

We will keep you posted on the trial’s developments.


Jury Selection: A Courts Reporter Reflects

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

I sought the help from fellow journalists in researching a story about social media and its affect on the courts.

I was lucky enough to hear back from John Painter, Jr., a retired Oregonian courts reporter (and, as no one is immune from the process, a seven-time potential juror), who offered me these thoughts on jury selection, the process some lawyers call “pick ‘em and stick ‘em.”

“In my experience as a juror, during voire dire I was bumped from every case but one (both sides had run out of challenges) solely because as a court reporter I knew too much about trials and the trial tactics of both sides.

In my experience as both juror and journalist, I came to several conclusions:

(1) Jurors being questioned routinely lie about their positions on issues they think could get them bumped;

(2) lawyers on both sides harbor deep-seated prejudices about who would make a good and bad juror and the common rationales for bumping certain types of jurors are mostly without real-world foundation, but “blogging” news web sites is a red flag;

(3) lawyers involved in criminal litigation invariably will disqualify any potential jurors with any link to any media (and in this day and age that includes anything dealing with the web);

(4) no expert worth his/her salt can tell you anything substantive about who would be a good or bad juror; humans are just too complicated.”


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