Why the Law and Facebook Aren't Friends

The insatiable urge to use social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, comes from the excitement and novelty of connecting with people we might otherwise not know, but it also begs the question: where is our common sense?

It’s a loaded question, I know, but the time has come to demand more from people and ask them to start using their brains instead of just their keyboards.

What finally brought me to this conclusion was the unbelievable story I heard about jurors becoming Facebook buddies while a trial was still underway. I heard about it from a coworker, who ended up forwarding me Adam Ostrow’s Mashable post, “Jurors Becoming Facebook Friends = Grounds For Appeal?

The story goes a little like this: Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon was on trial for embezzlement – she was accused of stealing gift cards intended for needy children – and was later convicted on December 2nd.  The Facebook issue was raised – after the verdict was declared, of course – when Dixon’s attorneys became “suspicious” about the jurors’ online activities and started looking into whether or not these individuals were contacting each other outside the courtroom.

The Baltimore Sun article explains that the lawyers discovered about half of the jurors had become Facebook pals. In direct violation of the judge's orders, they also found out that these friendships were made during the trial and the jurors had participated in ‘prohibited communications’ with each other (and outsiders) throughout the process.

The interactions were pretty absurd; jurors wrote on each others’ walls, had comments talking openly about the trial with outsiders, and a couple even met for Thanksgiving dinner! Yes, it’s touching that former strangers could establish friendships online and even share the holidays together, but it’s the wrong circumstance.

Think people. Sometimes you don’t need to post everything for everyone to see. Even if you only have a dozen friends or you're new to Facebook, you should know enough to realize that it's not ok to blab about the details of a trial. Ever. The jurors’ Facebook activities were definitely out of line, but this convoluted situation does (at the very least) raise some important questions:

  • How did the defense lawyers gain access to the jurors’ Facebook pages in the first place?
  • Can this trial be considered fair if the jurors lose their privacy and personal freedom in the process?
  • Were the jurors knowingly violating the judge’s orders or has Facebook become so ingrained in their lives that they didn’t realize the consequences of their actions?
  • Does this really establish ‘just cause’ for an appeal?

This case will definitely set a precedent for upcoming juror selection and trial proceedings, there’s no doubt about that. It is also a firm reminder to all of us that we need to step back and think about what we’re posting, sharing or tweeting. And, sometimes it’s just not ok to share.

-Contributed by Gretchen Doores  You can follow her on Twitter: @canadiangal84

Read The Baltimore Sun article, “Juror contact in '06 with Dixon, witness could cause mistrial” for more information on the ensuing juror controversy.