Facebook Friending May Cause Mistrial in Conviction of Baltimore’s Mayor

There is probably a chapter in here somewhere about when to use discretion when posting on someone’s wall.

Last week, a jury convicted Baltimore’s mayor, Sheila Dixon, of embezzlement — stealing gift cards intended for needy children.  This was the trial of the century in Maryland (the state that brought you Spiro Agnew).

This week, the mayor’s attorneys plan to move for a mistrial.

Here is what went down.  As is typical for all trials, the presiding Judge Dennis M. Sweeney advised jurors to keep a low profile and not communicate with one another (or anyone else) outside the jury room.

After deliberations began, half of the the jurors ignored the Judge’s admonition and immediately “friended” each other on Facebook.  During the four-day Thanksgiving break, two of them even made plans to celebrate the holiday together.

On the Sunday of the Thanksgiving break, before deliberations resumed, Juror No. 11, Elaine Pollack, wrote on the wall of Juror No. 12, JamesChaney,

“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.”

[And then] “Al,” a person not on the jury, added a comment to that online conversation that read: “Not guilty …” After the verdict, [Juror No. 6, Shiron] Davis, wrote: “NO AL, GUILTY AS HELL…SORRY.”

This is precisely the kind of contact that jurors are not supposed to have with each other and the public during deliberations.  You can be sure the Mayor’s team of a half-a-dozen high-priced defense attorneys will seize on this contact in their motion for mistrial.

But Siouxsie says, “What’s the big deal?”  Sure, the jurors were idiots to friend each other on Facebook after the Judge’s warning, and even more reckless to post about the case on each other’s Facebook walls.  But even so, this case was a high-profile one and, as such, both sides tried their case in the court of public opinion anyway.

In the future, attorneys and judges need to adjust their expectations and deal with reality.  Jurors are going to use social networking sites with one another.  This stuff is not going away.

This verdict should not be thrown out over some silly Facebook banter.

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~ by siouxsielaw on December 7, 2009.

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