Possible Mistrial in Baltimore Mayor Case Becuase Jury Members Chatted About Case on Facebook

December 7th, 2009

One defendant was already acquitted because of an alibi generated by a facebook status update. Can another defendant, this case the Mayor of Baltimore, walk because jurors friended each other on facebook and chatted about the case?

From the ABA Journal:

After a high-profile conviction last week on a misdemeanor charge concerning $600 worth of Best Buy and Target gift cards embezzled for her personal use, Baltimore’s first female mayor is down but not out.

Nearly half of the jury members friended each other on Facebook, despite the judge’s instructions not to communicate with each other outside the jury room, reports the Baltimore Sun.

From the Baltimore Sun:

The mayor’s attorneys said they also are exploring questions about whether the jurors participated in prohibited communications with outsiders or with each other as the trial progressed.

Soon after the panel of nine women and three men began deliberating Nov. 19, half of them also began “friending” each other on Facebook. Juror No. 6, Shiron Davis, confirmed that the jurors had chatted on the social networking site.

During the four-day break in deliberations for Thanksgiving, Davis invited Juror No. 12, James Chaney, to her Edmondson Village apartment for Thanksgiving dinner. The Sunday before deliberations resumed, Juror No. 11, Elaine Pollack, wrote to Chaney, “Hi James! Ready for round……..oh I lost count! See you tomorrow!”

He replied: “Yeah its probably round 12 or 13 but im ready i guess. Hopefully it will be the last round.”

“Al,” a person not on the jury, added a comment to that online conversation that read: “Not guilty …” After the verdict, Davis wrote: “NO AL, GUILTY AS HELL…SORRY.”

Though presiding Judge Dennis M. Sweeney advised jurors to keep a low profile and not communicate with one another outside the jury room, it is unclear whether the Facebook communications amount to enough to overturn the guilty verdict. State prosecutors and defense attorneys learned of the online contact on Wednesday, when reporters asked questions after the judge released the list of juror names. Prosecutors said they view the communications as harmless, while Weiner said he is reviewing the content as a possible issue in appeals.

Web 2.0 is brutal and unforgiving. Unlike a casual remark in the jury deliberation room or in the parking lot, facebook messages remain. I’ll keep an eye on this.