Connected, the newsletter of the National Center for State Courts, lastest issue has articles relating to Social Media in the court. Always a topic of interest, we have shared the articles below.
State Court PIO Attacked over Social Media Usage
The Denver Post reported on March 21, 2014 that defense attorneys for Aurora theatre shooter, James Holmes, filed a motion to compel with the court. The motion alleges that Rob McCallum, the public information officer for the Colorado judicial branch, violated or will violate the trial judge’s prior gag order in the case and “undermined Mr. Holmes’ right to a fair trial by an impartial jury” with the case related postings on his Twitter page. The 18-page motion is available online and includes numerous screen shots of the postings in question.
It also cites the gag order which precludes court personnel from disclosing information about the case that is not already public. Mr. McCallum allegedly violated this order by engaging in a series of “jovial tweets” with a prosecutor. Additionally, the motion states, Mr. McCallum “provides information and communicates his personal opinion about other high profile cases using his Twitter account.” He also allegedly has promoted law enforcement agencies via Twitter. This newspaper article and the motion graphically portray complex issues in the social media age about how to balance First Amendment rights with the defendant’s rights so their cases are decided by fair and impartial juries.
Admissibility of Social Media Postings into Evidence
The Supreme Court of Delaware issued an opinion in Tiffany Parker v. State in February of 2014. Ms. Parker was convicted by a jury of “second degree assault.” She alleged on appeal that the trial court erred by admitting statements into evidence from her Facebook page. The defendant argued that Delaware should follow the Maryland approach. Under Maryland caselaw, social media evidence may only be authenticated through the “testimony of the creator, documentation of the internet history or hard drive of the purported creator’s computer, or information obtained directly from the social networking site.” The state argued that the court should follow the Texas approach to the admission of social media evidence. Under the Texas approach, the proponent of social media evidence must only prove to the trial judge that a “jury could reasonably find that the proffered evidence was authentic.”
The Supreme Court of Delaware adopted the approach in Texas used to authenticate and admit social media evidence. In doing so, they indicated that the mechanisms that were currently in place in the Delaware Rules of Evidence were sufficient to ensure that social media postings offered as evidence have not been falsified. This is an interesting case because it describes very clearly two very different approaches for resolving this issue.
Judges’ Use of Social Media
John G. Browning, a Dallas, Texas attorney published an article in the current issue of the Miami Law Review titled, “Why Can’t We Be Friends? Judges’ Use of Social Media.” One of the introductory paragraphs describes the article:
This article examines both the positive aspects of judges participating in social media as well as the ethical pitfalls. It will look at not only individual instances of judges’ misconduct in their use of social media, but also the varying treatment seen in the ethics opinions and judicial rulings from around the country that have addressed the issue. These decisions reveal that attitudes toward judges being active on social media vary among the states that have dealt with this issue. These decisions, and the attitudes they reflect, shed light on how we view judges and their role in society. Are judges to be viewed as isolated from society? Are they to be viewed as philosopher-priests toiling away in our jurisprudential temples? Should they be regarded as fully connected to society and all of its foibles, with their work reflecting accessibility to the citizens they serve?
Survey of 583 Actual Jurors on Social Media
U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve (N.D. Ill), Judge Charles P. Burns of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois and Michael A. Zuckerman, Esq. published a law review article in the Duke Law and Technology Review titled, “More From the #Jury Box: The Latest on Juries and Social Media,” 12 Duke Law & Technology Review 64-91 (2014). The authors surveyed 583 actual jurors in both federal and state courts to explore their attitudes towards social media. The survey and the law review article are very unique. They give readers insights into this issue as well as providing support for the view that a well written jury instruction may be th e best counter measure to manage this problem.
ssc – jm