Thursday, March 19, 2009

Twitter and social networking can pose problems for legal system.

Technology moves quickly. The legal system does not always move so swiftly, but it is being forced to address a fluid situation in which technology may well be compromising the integrity of the judicial system.

In recent weeks, there have been several examples of this coming to light. In Arkansas, a juror was posting 'tweets'(the messages sent using the Twitter program) during breaks to give updates on the trial. The defendant, Russell Wright and Stoam Industries, had lost a $12.6 million lawsuit. His legal representation has filed an appeal of the findings claiming that juror Jonathen Powell was not fair and impartial. Wright's attorneys are basing this claim on the content of Powell's tweets. One of these messages read ""just gave away $12 million of someone else's money" and later went on to add that no one should buy Stoam "now that their wallet is 12M lighter." The defense is claiming that the juror also used the internet do research about the case. Powell has not denied using the internet to research, but now claims that he was 'looking up stuff about being a juror.'

In more local news to those of us in the Pottstown, PA area, is the federal corruption trial of former Pennsylvania state senator, Vincent J. Fumo. Before the jury reached a verdict, Fumo's defense attorneys have demanded the judge declare a mistrial in the case because a juror had been posting messages using both Twitter and Facebook regarding the trial. The judge ruled that the juror could stay and Fumo was convicted on all 137 counts. However, his attorneys have already expressed the desire to appeal the decision based upon their belief that the juror had reached a decision before the conclusion of the trial.

Just last week, a juror in a Florida federal drug trial admitted to the judge that he and other jurors had been researching the case on the internet. It turns out that a total of nine jurors had researched the case on Google. Federal judge, William J. Zloch, had no choice but to declare a mistrial. “We were stunned,” said a defense lawyer, Peter Raben, who was told by the jury that he had been on the verge of winning the case. “It’s the first time modern technology struck us in that fashion, and it hit us right over the head.”

It would appear that, at a minimum, jury instruction will now have to be changed to include the use of Twitter, Facebook and internet based search engines such as Google.

The technology is certainly no stranger to the Judicial System. Twitter can be a tremendous resource for networking and information exchange. In fact, the Philadelphia court system has its own twitter. Now we must move past simply using the technology to reap its benefits and come to terms with the full ramifications of its uses. The three cases above have resulted in one mistrial while the other two will likely end up with lengthy, and costly, appeals being filed. The end result is an added burden on the judicial system and a drain on tax-payer dollars.

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Michael Krumer said...

That is incredible. People need to be more responsible.

Crystal Laker said...

You would think that people had some amount of common sense.

Cam Barnes said...

People are going to do what they are going to do regardless of who it affects, so long as they have their fun.

ObamaMama said...

just more people wasting more of my money

Doug said...

these are all great technologies, but with everything good comes a bad.

Kip Dynamite said...

sooner or later, someone will get away with something because other people didn't take their civic responsibility seriously