Tweeting Juror Is One Man’s Ticket Off Death RowBy: Josh Wolford - December 9, 2011
An Arkansas man’s death row conviction has been overturned essentially because one juror couldn’t keep away from Twitter.
The Arkansas state Supreme Court has reversed a lower court’s decision that the juror’s tweets in question do not constitute grounds for a new trial. The Supreme Court is suggesting that Erickson Dimas-Martinez be given a brand new trial because Juror #2 decided to post Christian metalcore lyrics on Twitter.
The allegation of juror misconduct related to the juror tweeting during the trial was also raised in a motion for new trial but denied by the circuit court. The State counters that Appellant did not preserve an objection to the sleeping juror and cannot demonstrate prejudice with regard to the twittering juror as the juror never tweeted specifics about the case. Because we conclude that the one juror sleeping and a second juror tweeting constituted juror misconduct, we reverse and remand for a new trial.
As you can see above, the tweeting juror was not the only problem with the trial. There was also allegations that one juror was sleeping through jury deliberations. While this is an obvious no-no, the Twitter activity raises interesting new questions for our legal system.
Mainly, what does social media mean for “public discussion?” What are those involved in a trial allowed to express via social media? According to this Supreme Court, pretty much next to nothing.
According to the Supreme Court decision, Juror #2 tweeted this during the noon recess on the day evidence was submitted in the sentencing phase:
Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken. We each define the great line.
When asked about the nature of the tweet, Juror #2 explained that it was part of an album title from the Christian metalcore band Underoath.
Other tweets made during the trial process included “the coffee here sucks,” and “Court. Day 5. here we go again.” During the actual jury deliberations in the sentencing phase, he also tweeted “It’s over,” nearly an hour before the jury had officially announced their sentence recommendations.
Although the lower court found that the tweets were not a “material breach of the instruction or of his oath,” (the jury was instructed to refrain from electronic communications about the trial) the Supreme Court decided that the tweets were far from innocuous.
Because of the very nature of Twitter as an on online social media site, Juror 2’s tweets about the trial were very much public discussions. Even if such discussions were one-sided, it is in no way appropriate for a juror to state musings, thoughts, or other information about a case in such a public fashion.
And so Erickson Dimas-Martinez, who was convicted of murdering a teenager after a party in 2010, is off death row and awaiting a new trial – mostly because one guy couldn’t stay off Twitter for a few days.
Do you agree that tweeting and posting to Facebook amounts to public discussions of court proceedings, and should therefore be grounds for a mistrial? Let us know in the comments.