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Juror's Tweets Overturn Trial Verdict 423

Posted by Soulskill
from the years-ago-that-headline-would-mean-something-different dept.
D H NG writes "The Arkansas Supreme Court had overturned a murder conviction due to a juror tweeting during the trial. Erickson Dimas-Martinez was convicted in 2010 of killing a teenager and was sentenced to death. His lawyers appealed the case on account of a juror tweeting his musings during the trial and because another juror nodded off during the presentation of evidence. Tweets sent include 'The coffee here sucks' and 'Court. Day 5. here we go again.' In an opinion, Associate Justice Donald Corbin wrote 'because of the very nature of Twitter as an... online social media site, Juror 2's tweets about the trial were very much public discussions.' Dimas-Martinez is to be given a new trial."
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Juror's Tweets Overturn Trial Verdict

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  • Uh oh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hartree (191324) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:33PM (#38327252)

    I've got jury duty next week.

    I'll have to remember not to complain about the coffee.

    • Re:Uh oh. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Gunfighter (1944) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:41PM (#38327358) Homepage

      Please be sure to read up on the concept of jury nullification before you go. You have more power in the jury box than any other individual in the justice system.

      • Re:Uh oh. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by hedwards (940851) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:53PM (#38327504)

        That's every bit as much an abuse of the system as the DA that includes questionable evidence or testimony.

        When something goes to trial the plaintiff or prosecutor and the defense agree to a set of ground rules which include the jury only acting within their power and on the basis of the evidence given. Jury nullification is something which breaks the deal and makes it even harder to obtain justice as the prosecutor/plaintiff has to then worry about the opinions of the jury as to whether or not the defendant should be guilty, not whether or not they did it.

        • Re:Uh oh. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 10, 2011 @02:00PM (#38327610)

          > Jury nullification is something which breaks the deal and makes it even harder to obtain justice

          You clearly do not understand jury nullification. It *increase* justice, it doesn't make it harder to obtain justice. The jury can refuse to convict someone of an unjust law. Many laws are either not just, or are not just when applied to a particular circumstance where other factors were involved. In such cases, the jury has the power to nullify the unjust law.

          It's disturbing that so many people are unaware of their moral and ethical obligations in this space.

          • Jury nullification can serve a higher sense of justice, and that was indeed its intended purpose. But it can just as easily be used, say, by a white jury to pardon a white man for murdering a black man.
          • Consider this (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 10, 2011 @02:23PM (#38327828)

            While I tend to agree with you about jury nullification, what about this?

            Muslim man kils his wife because she attempts to divorce him. Jury picked from the local population, which just happens to be a mostly Muslim community, refuses to convict him of murder because they believe, contrary to the law of the land, that his actions were justified.

            Food for thought.

        • Re:Uh oh. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by theArtificial (613980) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @02:19PM (#38327792)

          When something goes to trial the plaintiff or prosecutor and the defense agree to a set of ground rules which include the jury only acting within their power and on the basis of the evidence given. Jury nullification is something which breaks the deal and makes it even harder to obtain justice as the prosecutor/plaintiff has to then worry about the opinions of the jury as to whether or not the defendant should be guilty, not whether or not they did it.

          We have a legal system, not justice. A very important distinction. Otherwise we wouldn't have DAs who are measured by their conviction rates, "success" stacked towards those with the most money, innocents executed, being held without a trial etc.

        • Re:Uh oh. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by DarkOx (621550) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @02:23PM (#38327842) Journal

          Like anything it can be abused. That is why there are 12 or more members of jury. It provides a pretty adequate check on the power of any one juror. So one crazy that thinks practically every law should never be enforced is not easily able to run away with nullification.

          Nullification is rarely needed but very important to justice in those situations where the law as written fails to fairly describe a situation. Most likely because the legislators did not envision it or perhaps because a special interest *bought* it. I am glad I live in a nation where if I stood trial and 12 of my peers can agree that if they had been in my situation they'd have done the same and it would have been the right thing, I would go free.

          Yes a prosecutor can decide not to bring charges, but \s?he is one person who faces all kinds of varying pressures, from different places. The jury on the other hand is 12 unknown people who's identities are hopefully not widely knowable at least until after the trial is concluded.

        • Jury nullification is something which breaks the deal and makes it even harder to obtain justice as the prosecutor/plaintiff has to then worry about the opinions of the jury as to whether or not the defendant should be guilty, not whether or not they did it.

          I want this. I want prosecutors to hesitate before bringing charges against someone who may be guilty of breaking a law without actually having done anything wrong.

        • Re:Uh oh. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by russotto (537200) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @03:59PM (#38328872) Journal

          When something goes to trial the plaintiff or prosecutor and the defense agree to a set of ground rules which include the jury only acting within their power and on the basis of the evidence given.

          Everything the defendant "agrees to" is under duress. If he refuses to co-operate with the system, the system will simply continue to operate to convict and sentence him. There is no deal.

          The way I look at it, if I am placed on a jury (under duress, as jury duty is compulsory) where the defendant is unquestionably in violation of the law, but the law is something I feel is unjust, I really have only two choices -- I can ratify the injustice by voting "guilty", or I can deny or delay the injustice by voting "not guilty". To me, the choice is easy; I will not willingly facilitate injustice.

  • by Osgeld (1900440) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:34PM (#38327268)

    Obviously this is becoming a problem because you don't need to be on the phone to be on the phone anymore, simple solution is to give the juror's an emergency hotline number to pass out (if the mom dies or something) and take away the damned phones during trial.

    Contrary to popular belief you will not die if you are not able to operate a telephone computer device for the length of a day.

    • by Tsingi (870990)

      Contrary to popular belief you will not die if you are not able to operate a telephone computer device for the length of a day.

      My daughter disagrees with you. She has lost several phones. Each loss is superceded by a grave illness, the cure for which can only be the acquisition of another phone.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:54PM (#38327522) Journal
      Arguably, the fact that the jurors had their phones with them provided valuable evidence of them absolutely not giving a fuck about a fairly important matter(It's only some guy being charged with murder, this isn't going to be on the test, right your honor?). In a way, it might be more valuable to leave people the means to easily and verifiably show that they are slacking off, rather than force them to slack off in more silent ways...

      Seriously, tweeting about coffee and falling asleep during presentation of evidence, in a case about something slightly graver than a parking ticket?

      I suppose the downside of a jury of one's peers is that one's peers are dangerously likely to be fuckwits with an attention span challenged by most commercial breaks...
    • by LordLucless (582312) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @05:59PM (#38329928)

      Have you ever been on jury duty? I was on a case that ran for a week. For about 80% of the time, we weren't in the courtroom - the lawyers were arguing about legal technicalities that the jury wasn't allowed to hear before the judge ruled who was right. On a number of days, we came in, went into the court for its opening, went straight to the jury room, and stayed there for the entire day, returning to the court only for its close at the end of the day. It was even a fairly open and shut case as far as the jury was concerned. And it was bloody boring. If I hadn't had some sort of way to pass the time, I would have gone bonkers. As it was, I brought a book. These days, since I tend to read ebooks on my phone, I would not be impressed if they took it away and made me sit and stare at a wall all day.

  • So what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pla (258480) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:35PM (#38327284) Journal
    I can understand why jurors shouldn't receive outside information about the trial (though have a personal bone over expecting experts to magically forget everything they know for the purposes of serving on a jury).

    But non-detail-bearing outbound messages? Seriously, so what? That has no effect on the actual trial or the defendant's ability to enjoy the due process of law leading to a more-or-less fair verdict.
    • That was my thought as well. Not only that, but the tweets in the article did not seem to reflect anything about what was actually going on in the trial. I half expect that if the defendant is convicted in the second trial his lawyers will appeal based on the jury pool being compromised because of the tweets by this juror.
    • A good defense attorney might argue that the very fact that the coffee wasn't very good lead to jurors not drinking it, and thusly not paying close attention during the trial.

      Hopefully this guy still gets the death penalty if hes found guilty. It really does look like he murdered a 17 year old over the money in the kids pocket.

    • Re:So what? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Torinir (870836) <torinir@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:43PM (#38327382) Homepage Journal
      However, the judge has to consider the possibility that the juror may have received DMs on Twitter that may actually impact the trial. This is why jurors are sequestered in the first place, to prevent outside communications from impacting the jury's decision.
    • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nidi62 (1525137) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:45PM (#38327410)

      I can understand why jurors shouldn't receive outside information about the trial (though have a personal bone over expecting experts to magically forget everything they know for the purposes of serving on a jury). But non-detail-bearing outbound messages? Seriously, so what? That has no effect on the actual trial or the defendant's ability to enjoy the due process of law leading to a more-or-less fair verdict.

      How do you know the juror hasn't already been compromised, and is sending out information regarding the direction of deliberation in a predetermined code? For all you know, "the coffee here sucks" could mean that the deliberation is going against the way the tampering party wants. Hell, it could even be code aimed at a news outlet so that they can get the scoop, by knowing what the verdict is trending towards beforehand? And if information can go out, information can be going in as well. If a juror has access to his twitter account, he has access to anyone who associated them with that account (like a follower), or targets him with a post. The goal of rules such as this is to attempt to avoid any appearance of impropriety or impartiality, whether there is any or not.

      • by grim4593 (947789)
        Eh, Jury Duty does not pay enough to own me for the entire duration of a trial. Sure, I will go out of my way to avoid finding out information about the trial in the name of impartiality but I will be damned if they want to make me a prisoner in my own body while I get an unpaid vacation from work.
        • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymus (2267354) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @02:17PM (#38327770)

          Jury duty is not a paying job, it's your duty (hence the name) to help keep a just society functioning.

          If anything, your payment is living in a land that isn't (yet) totalitarian. Avoiding jury duty is as bad for society as skipping out on paying taxes.

          • Re:So what? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.org.> on Saturday December 10, 2011 @03:25PM (#38328542)

            I don't see why we can't pay jurors some modest amount, though. Surely it's in all our interests to keep a justice system functioning. Occasionally, trials take a long time, so a jury may be sequestered for weeks. Why should the cost be borne entirely by the people who, by random chance, end up on the jury for such trials, especially since they're already sacrificing in other ways (e.g. not seeing their families or attending to other business for weeks)? The financial burden, at least, seems like it could be generally shared by taxpayers, at least to the level of reimbursing them at minimum wage.

      • Paranoid much?

        How do you know that the who-could-fall-for-this ads in Time magazine aren't code for sleeper agents?

    • (though have a personal bone over expecting experts to magically forget everything they know for the purposes of serving on a jury).

      You don't have to - you are given a set of facts and make your decision based on that; but your experiences and knowledge is part of the deliberation process. What you can't do is use prior knowledge about the case to reach a verdict - so saying " I read that you couldn't get from A to B in 30 minutes" is not OK, using your knowledge of how fast a car can go to decide someone couldn't have done that is OK.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How do you get a fair verdict when one of the jurors fell asleep and the one looked at a murder trial as some mundane routine. Those jurors had someone's life in their hands and that's how they approached the trial? It's disgraceful and both of them should seriously rethink their entire lives. It's pathetic and the defendant absolutely deserves a second trial with jurors who take their responsibility seriously.

      • by pla (258480)
        How do you get a fair verdict when one of the jurors fell asleep and the one looked at a murder trial as some mundane routine

        For one, it very clearly shows that they had no emotional involvement in the outcome. If I ever found myself as the defendant in such a case, I'd take disinterested jurors over passionate ones in a frickin' heartbeat.

        As for falling asleep, I will agree that goes a bit too far. That said, I don't know that I'd do any better listening to lawyers babble for hours on end in a langu
    • by khr (708262)

      But a juror publicly talking about what's going on with the jury, outside whatever is obvious in the courtroom, might affect how lawyers for either side present their case.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Because it gives the parties involved a way of gauging the status of various jurors. But mostly because it's easier to order a jury not to discuss, investigate, avoid hearing about or speaking about the case at all than it is to set up a set of rules that govern where exactly the line is.

      Ultimately it was presumably in the judges instructions and orders from the beginning that they were not to engage in that activity and report any accidental exposure to the bailiff. Or at least that's how it was when I was

    • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:59PM (#38327588) Homepage Journal

      Simple. Juror is ordered not to post anything on the Internet. Juror *disregards* the order, therefore juror has shown he can't be trusted to follow instructions the judge has given him.

      You can't undo an execution, nor can you compensate the executed person if the conviction was in error. If you're considering killing a man, common decency demands you at least provide him with a jury that can be trusted to follow instructions.

    • by swalve (1980968)
      It's the same reason why cameras and recording devices aren't allowed in most courtrooms. It is purported to cause the people in the courtroom to behave differently.

      And the reason why experts are asked to "forget" what they know is because all that is relevant is the facts and evidence as presented in the courtroom.
  • Need a new law (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nidi62 (1525137) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:40PM (#38327344)
    Any type of incident such as this should be considered obstruction of justice, or at least contempt of court, and should come with a fine and/or jail sentence(if only a few days). Jurors not paying attention or disregarding orders can cost lives (either by sentencing an innocent man to death, or freeing an actual murderer and allowing him to kill again). Jury duty is not something that should be taken lightly, and is one of the few things the government asks you to do in regards to civic duty. A lot of people can't even do this right, or don't want to. People want so much from the government, but they can't even be bothered to do one simple thing like pay attention and do your duty.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by pla (258480)
      Any type of incident such as this should be considered obstruction of justice, or at least contempt of court, and should come with a fine and/or jail sentence

      Sure - Just as soon as jury duty becomes purely voluntary (and don't give me "then just don't register to vote"), or at the very least, easily deferrable to any convenient time within the next year or so once notified. What we have now amounts to nothing short of indentured servitude if you want to actually exercise your right to vote. At any time
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Nidi62 (1525137)

        Any type of incident such as this should be considered obstruction of justice, or at least contempt of court, and should come with a fine and/or jail sentence Sure - Just as soon as jury duty becomes purely voluntary (and don't give me "then just don't register to vote"), or at the very least, easily deferrable to any convenient time within the next year or so once notified. What we have now amounts to nothing short of indentured servitude if you want to actually exercise your right to vote. At any time, they can call you in and unless you have a damned good reason, you can find the next few weeks of your life suddenly unavailable to you (and Zeus help you if you actually get called for any sort of high-profile capital case, unless you like the thought of effectively living in solitary confinement for six months).

        You are provided with police service, fire service, protection from foreign enemies, insurance against money loss, unemployment if you can't get a job, medical assistance for those that are retired/too poor to afford it, food if you cannot afford it, infrastructure, and various environmental and consumer protections, to name a few. The government asks of you only 2 (or 3, if you are male) things: pay your taxes, enter the selective service (for males), and participate in jury duty. For all the government

        • by pla (258480)
          The government asks of you only 2 (or 3, if you are male) things: pay your taxes, enter the selective service (for males), and participate in jury duty

          Which I consider two (as a male) too many, and would further argue about how much tax we really need to pay.


          Like I said, this is what is wrong with this country, at all levels. It's not "give and take" anymore. It's "see how much I can take, and how little I can give".

          We allow the government to exist because it facilitates us getting about with our d
    • That's what bothers me more than the tweeting per se(yes, they might have been discussing the case in some covert way, and a phone would certainly give them the capability to be influenced during the case from the outside, which would be bad): If you are falling asleep, or twitting away about the coffee, you aren't even paying basic attention to the case, which is your job(or you suck so badly at paying basic attention to presentations of data that you should probably be excused from jury service and allowe
  • Obviously the Arkansas Supreme Court is packed with crackers who let Erickson [guim.co.uk] (probably related to Leif) off because he was white.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      No, they did it because the trial was compromised and they couldn't be sure that the defendant had received a fair trial. If they wanted to let a white man off the hook they could have ordered him freed without a new trial.

  • ...what. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 10, 2011 @01:45PM (#38327412)

    I didn't even know you were allowed to have your phone with you. I haven't personally had jury duty, but the rest of my family has and they said they were told to leave their phones in their cars. In fact, my family didn't even tell each other about any details of the case until after the trial, and we never asked. None of our business.

    It boggles the mind that people think these things are okay. I don't know when or where I learned it, but I have it ingrained in me that until the trial is over, what happens in court, stays in court. Including how bad the coffee is.

    That juror is a moron and deserves punishment. If I was the family of the murdered kid, I would be furious and incredibly upset. I'm sure he'll get convicted again anyway, but that's not the point. Having to go through the process again, especially after hearing the first time the guilty verdict. That has got to suck.

  • by Fulminata (999320) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @02:02PM (#38327632)
    "Associate Justice Donald Corbin wrote 'because of the very nature of Twitter as an... online social media site, Juror 2's tweets about the trial were very much public discussions.'"

    A discussion, by definition, requires the participation of more than one person. So, Justice Corbin is incorrect. The juror made a public statement, but did not engage in a public discussion. It may be mostly a matter of semantics, but in this case it's also the difference between something that could have changed the outcome of the verdict and something which obviously did not.

    The juror behaved inappropriately, but not in such a way that could have influenced the outcome of a verdict, so the verdict should have been upheld.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    From the opinion:

    THE COURT
    : Okay. It’s says: Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken. Weeach define the great line. About 20 hours ago via text. Now what does that mean?

    JUROR
    [2]: What it means was, um, not only like to pertain to this case butalso to future stuff. Um, obviously, whatever we as a jury decide – you know, I’m notnecessarily saying I know what’s going to be decided, but we have to decide – makea huge decision. Either way, you know, if we do decide something

  • YAWN (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 10, 2011 @02:15PM (#38327758)

    Read the full opinion. The trial decision was reversed and remanded for many reasons, only one of which was juror misconduct. The juror misconduct charge came about from the juror not following the judge's direction not to use social media. The judge actually determined that the tweets did not harm the defendant.

  • Bad decision (Score:5, Insightful)

    by laing (303349) on Saturday December 10, 2011 @04:13PM (#38329018)
    I don't tweet, but I have served on several juries. The judge always admonishes the jury to not discuss the trial until after it's over. The judge does not prevent any and all contact with other people, only contact related to the proceedings. Tweeting is not much different than talking and this juror was not sequestered and not talking about the case. I see this as a bad decision. (I cannot read the whole decision itself. Only the first few pages appear at the link from TFA.)

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