Tweeting Justice

I have tried to be an advocate for our criminal justice system, for the reasons that, although not perfect (what is?), by and large it does a fairly good job of disseminating justice, drilling down to the core facts of the issue and meting out proper punishment for the offender. At times, it swings and misses, but fallible men are in fact fallible and can make mistakes, so we have the appellate process, and when they get it wrong that issue get bumped up to the final arbiter, SCOTUS.

Most times, when learned trained and experienced judges make a boned headed decision, I chalk it up to my ignorance in legal matters and court procedure, but the other day I read about a tweet that upset the whole apple cart:

A juror’s tweets have caused the murder conviction of a death row inmate to be overturned by a court in the US.

Arkansas Supreme Court judges said it was inappropriate for a juror to have posted his musings online.

It is a short article so you can read the whole thing.

First off, this juror is a dolt, and if actions have consequences ( a new trial which will be expensive) then something bad should happen to this idiot. Not only are the instructions clear ,”Do not talk or communicate with anyone concerning this trial”, these instructions are repeated to the jurors at the end of each and every business day in court, don’t do it.

But some folks just can’t put their toys down, so 3 innocuous tweets were sent, and subsequently torpedoed the entire conviction.

You can read the tweets for yourself, I tend to sympathize that the tweets were not prejudicial or related to facts about the case. But did the state Supreme Court go overboard (unanimous decisions, btw) in overturning a murder conviction solely in the issuance’s of these tweets?

My first year on the job I was part of a very high profile case in Beverly Hills court involving a high ranking city (L.A.) official. Robert Shapiro was head council for the defense, this was before the O.J. trial but he was still considered a top gun. One morning (about 2/3 through the trial) I was chatting amiably with some of the jurors in the hallway before the court doors opened up. The conversation was casual and about 3 or 4 juror members were involved. I felt a gentle arm around my shoulder with a ,”Can I have a word with you a minute?”, It was the lead prosecutor who guided me over to a quiet corner and read me the riot act ,”I know you are young and inexperienced, but don’t ever let me see you chatting with a juror or any member of the court on one of my trials, you want to risk an overturn on appeal over something stupid? Don’t give the defense any reason, ever, to scrutinize either your testimony or your actions, these cases are hard enough to win as it is, got it?”. Needless to say, I learned a valuable lesson.

We hold the rights of the accused inviolate, they are presumed innocent and are afforded certain legal protections, so when irregularities or breaches of conduct occur, the preponderance of presumption is scaled on the side of the accused, I understand that, but concerning this case, where the facts point to guilt and the accused was afforded a fair trial, why the overturn?

Yes, I guess it is better to hit the re set button now then 10 years through the appeal process, but still.

Comments are closed.

  1. Xetrov

    Having just sat on a jury a few weeks ago (assault/battery case), I can say that the juror in this case is an idiot. Innocuous tweets or not, you are told repeatedly not to discuss anything about the trial until it is over. I couldn’t tell my wife or work anything beyond that I was serving on a jury.

    The original judge should have ruled a miss-trial and tried the case again.

    One morning (about 2/3 through the trial) I was chatting amiably with some of the jurors in the hallway before the court doors opened up. The conversation was casual and about 3 or 4 juror members were involved. I felt a gentle arm around my shoulder with a ,”Can I have a word with you a minute?”, It was the lead prosecutor who guided me over to a quiet corner and read me the riot act ,”I know you are are young and inexperienced, but don’t ever let me see you chatting with a juror or any member of the court on one of my trials, you want to risk an overturn on appeal over something stupid? Don’t give the defense any reason, ever, to scrutinize either your testimony or your actions, these cases are hard enough to win as it is, got it?”. Needless to say, I learned a valuable lesson.

    We got the same speech from the Judge, we weren’t to discuss anything with anyone involved in the case, not even other jurors outside of the jury room. Which was a shame, because one of the defense attorneys was gorgeous.

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  2. Kimpost

    We got the same speech from the Judge, we weren’t to discuss anything with anyone involved in the case, not even other jurors outside of the jury room. Which was a shame, because one of the defense attorneys was gorgeous.

    No worries. I’m sure you’ll meet him again! :p

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  3. Thrill

    Rich, I’ll bet that the conviction was overturned because of the punishment, not so much any problem with the process. Anti-death penalty judges will use anything as a pretext to throw out a death sentence. Justice Stevens on SCOTUS in particular has been pretty clear in the past that he has no qualms about doing so.

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  4. Mississippi Yankee

    First off, this juror is a dolt, and if actions have consequences ( a new trial which will be expensive) then something bad should happen to this idiot.

    rich, you were a goddam cop and you, fundamentally did what this guy did (different technology similar offense). Why was your conversation less onerous than his tweets?

    Severity of crime? You didn’t get caught by the defense? Because you were the po-lice?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

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  5. richtaylor365 *

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    No you don’t, not really, because if you did then you would see the obvious difference between a clear violation of the judge’s instruction as opposed to the mere appearance of a perceived impropriety. There is no law against chatting with a juror, there is no judge’s instructions, no court mandate or any rule of law that say’s that witnesses can not talk amongst themselves. And some prosecutors might think that this particular prosecutor was paranoid and rigid wrt how he handles his witnesses.

    Contrast that with specific and defined jury instructions as dictated by the judge that each juror must adhere to, to wit, no outside contact with anyone concerning the trial, and these instructions are repeated every day to avoid ambiguity.

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