Is social media endangering the trial process?

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by Catherine Holland

GMAZ interview by Kaley O'Kelley

Posted on September 25, 2012 at 10:35 AM

Updated Saturday, Nov 23 at 6:45 PM

Poll:
Does social media endanger a defendant's right to a fair trial?

PHOENIX -- Every defendant has the right to a fair trial. It's one of the most basic tenets of our legal systems. Is the ubiquity if social media putting that right in danger?

Short of sequestration, it's virtually impossible to ensure that jurors do not access things they shouldn't -- even if they don't intend to. You never know, for example, what might pop up i. your Facebook timeline or Twitter stream.

Is it possible to have a truly fair trial this, this always-on, uber-connected information age in which all sorts of information is literally in the palms of our hands?

"It opens the door to so many different possible negative issues," said Phoenix attorney Brent Kleinman, who sat down with 3TV's Kaley O'Kelley to discuss the issue Tuesday morning. "Defense attorney cannot keep them [jurors] from learning something they may not want them to learn."

While judges admonish their jurors against using social media or reading about a case, enforcing the rule is difficult at best. It's not home computers that are the problem any more. It's the prevalence of smartphones.

If a juror does inappropriately use social media or do online research during a trial, that gives the defense valid grounds for a mistrial or appeal.

According to Kleinman, is has already happened -- more than once. Because of the that, Kleinman said, many courts have taken to reminding jurors at the end of each court day not to use social media lest they be swayed but what the see there rather than evidence presented in court.

"Most law firms -- big law firms -- have somebody that's monitoring everybody's Facebook account, Twitter accounts to see if there's any posts, any new follows, any new friend requests that may raise concern to a fair trial."

Klein says that's the reason more judges might turn to sequestering their juries "to make sure they're only getting the information the court is presenting to them."

Some say it's a matter of balancing the rights of jurors with those of the defendant. What do you think? Is social media endangering the trial process? Share your opinions below.

 

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