Earlier this month, Allen Stanford was convicted on 13 out of 14 counts relating to a giant Ponzi scheme that he’d been running for the past two decades. As chairman of the Stanford Financial Group, Stanford reportedly committed $7 billion dollars worth of fraud, a staggering figure that really only compares to that other famous Ponzi schemer.
Now he wants a new trial. And one of his major points of contention centers around social media use by the jury of his peers.
According to Stanford’s lawyer, Ali Fazel, one of the problems they had with the original trial was that is devolved into a “media circus.” And we know what that means – that a jury would be unable to enter the courtroom each day with an unbiased mind.
The main problem? Twitter. The motion claims that the judge in the trial allowed reporters to tweet freely from inside the courtroom, even at times when things were going on without the jury present. The motion then claims that the judge failed to tell the jurors to keep off Twitter. Fazel then points out the passivity with which Twitter users can retain information using the service:
“This broadcasting is likely to have reached a juror, since Twitter does not require active pursuit of information, but rather, if a friend of the juror’s was following the ‘Stanford trial,’ the tweets might automatically show up on a juror’s Twitter account.”
True, a juror would not have to be actively searching for tweets about the Stanford trial or even following any of the reporters or news organizations reporting on it. A friend’s comment about what they heard or even a retweet would apear in their tweet stream.
The real question in all of this is how to judges control their juries when it comes to social media. Of course, jurors aren’t going to to be tweeting and reading tweets during the prosecution’s opening statements or anything, but what about when they leave the courtroom? Can someone on jury duty realistically be expected to abstain from Twitter and Facebook for the entire duration of the trial – it could be weeks or months.
And it’s not like the problem is new. Judges have had to worry about how jurors communicate with the press, and others outside of the courtroom since there was such a thing as a trial. But social media just makes it so much easier for a juror to become involved in questionable communications. You can only get so many phone calls or face-to-face interactions. With Twitter, millions and million of opinions are shot to your smartphone in seconds.
There’s definitely a precedent for this type of claim from Stanford and his lawyer. Back in December 2011, an Arkansas man’s death row conviction was thrown out because of the Twitter use of a juror. A new trial has been put on the docket for Erickson Dimas-Martinez, because Juror #2 in the trial was tweeting during the trial, after the judge specifically instructed against it.
What do you think? How serious a problem are tweeting jurors? Let us know what you think in the comments.