Birmingham criminal defense lawyers know that the integrity of the justice system relies upon many factors.
One of those that is critical in any felony defense case is that the jury not be influenced by any outside factors.
Increasingly, however, that is becoming incredibly difficult, due to the advent of social media, 24-7 online news coverage and search engines that allow just about anything you would ever want to know about a case – before it ever goes to trial.
Now there have been some cases in which this worked to the advantage of the defense because the “Facebook factor” was deemed enough to have unduly influenced the outcome of the trial. Defendants who were found guilty have been granted a new trial – another shot to prove their innocence.
However, it’s important to note that in a lot of these cases, the details that emerge in a criminal case prior to a trial are almost always prejudicial to a defendant. That’s because police and prosecutors may be subject to certain public records laws. So it’s only the one side that the media is receiving – and publishing.
Although we have standards about the fact that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, the media doesn’t always treat it that way. While that is a bigger discussion for another day, the issue here is when sitting jurors take it upon themselves to research or learn about the case on their own, and subsequently learn facts that were otherwise deemed inadmissible in court.
A criminal defense lawyer works hard to make sure that certain evidence that results from, say, an illegal search and seizure, won’t be heard by a jury, and therefore used against you. But when that is disregarded by jurors who have such vast amounts of information at their fingertips, it threatens your chances at a fair trial.
In fact, there have been numerous cases across the country in which mistrials were declared following such instances.
Jurors have been accused of just about everything – from polling their Facebook friends about what the verdict should be to Tweeting details of the trial and deliberations as they happen.
In Birmingham, judges began specifically warning jurors in certain trials not to use Twitter or communicate about the trial electronically.
As it becomes increasingly more common, it’s important for you to understand there is great value in having a criminal defense lawyer who is technologically savvy and can swiftly call out such misconduct.
Judicial responses have been varied. In a case out of Florida a mistrial was declared in a massive drug trafficking case after several jurors admitted doing their own research on the case during the trial using Wikipedia. In California , a judge demanded access to a juror’s personal Facebook messages after it was learned that he was posting about the trial during the trial. Other violators have been given everything from essay assignments to jail time.