It took jurors about 50 minutes to convict Kendrick Morris of rape. The short length of the deliberations prompted some to speculate that the jurors may have been influenced by outside information. Several of the jurors defended the decision publicly, including jury forewoman Robin Richter, who wrote a letter to a local newspaper. The paper published the letter on its website.
An anonymous person, claiming to be one of the jurors, posted a comment on tampabay.com, implying that Richter had outside information when the jury reached its verdict:
I truly believe that there were more than one person knowing outside information. I believe he is guilty as well but really really believe some people were not telling the truth under oath. I won’t mention any names …foreman!!!
Morris’ lawyers have petitioned the court to speak with the jury they believe wrote the comment. They claim that Richter updated her Facebook status several times during the trial, discussing the case and that one of her friends may have provided information about the case. They seek to have her Facebook records subpoenaed.
This story raises several of the increasingly common issues facing courts today. First, there’s the issue of the anonymous poster. Anonymous comments about trials and other court proceedings are problematic. Just ask Ohio judge, Shirley Strickland, who is alleged to have posted comments under a pseudonym about cases before her. Strickland was removed by the state’s supreme court from a high-profile murder case on which she had allegedly commented.
Second, there’s the problem of jurors who comment about their case while the trial is ongoing. If the comments are specific about the case and offer enough details, a mistrial can result or the juror can be sanctioned. Other times, the juror’s comments are generic enough not to trigger alarm by the court, although the losing party is likely to cry foul. Even lawyers have made the mistake of discussing an ongoing case online.
Third, there’s the issue of the discoverability of social-networking sites. There have been several decisions in the past year addressing whether an individual’s Facebook posts and messages can be lawfully subpoenaed from the social-networking site and, if so, under what conditions and with what limitations.
[Source: Tampa Bay Online via MSNBC.com]