by Michael J. Sacopulos
“I’m on jury duty. God help me.” For those of us who have been on jury duty, this thought has probably passed through our head. Perhaps some of us have even muttered it beneath our breath when we received the notice to report into jury duty. But most people know enough not to tweet or write a Facebook post about serving or a jury. Now, enter a Kentucky juror who did exactly that. Her friend then responded “They’re guilty…whatever it is, they’re guilty”.
Earlier this year, this Kentucky juror was sitting on a medical malpractice case. The case involved a newborn child that had suffered a catastrophic and irreversible brain injury due to the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck. The child lived for 39 days before life support was removed. He died. According to the Kentucky Trial Court Review a $1,183,638 verdict was returned. Thereafter, the hospital sought a new trial/mistrial based on a Facebook posting by a juror.
This is just one more example of jurors misconduct via social media. In February a Sarasota, Florida man was selected to be a juror on a car-wreck case. He received the standard instructions not to use social media or the internet regarding the litigation. Days later the judge learned the juror had looked up the female defendant on Facebook and sent her a friend request. The juror was kicked off the jury and admonished.
In December 2011, a juror in an Orange County, California murder trial was dismissed after posting comments about the accused killer on Facebook, saying she’d like to get in contact with him after the case and making disparaging remarks about her colleagues on the panel.
In one post, the woman said she had become so annoyed with another juror cracking her knuckles that “I want to punch her,” the Orange County Register reported.
The juror also posted a photo of another juror’s shoes on her Facebook page, mocking her footwear as “clunky running shoes which I am pretty sure are not used for their intended purposes.” One can only imagine what testimony was being offered during the photo shoot.
There has always been an unpredictable nature to jury trials. Social media and the world wide web have injected more uncertainty into the process. In time, our judicial system will develop mechanisms for addressing this situation. For now, we proceed up the steep learning curve.