Court Warns Mass. Jurors About Case Comments On Social Media

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With a recent ruling, the Massachusetts Appeals Court has called on judges to give jurors clear instructions not to discuss or reference their cases on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The online postings, the court argued, could encourage other comments that could influence jury deliberations and lead to a mistrial.

"It's something that trial court judges in Massachusetts have been dealing with for a couple of years," David Frank, of the publication Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, told WBUR Morning Edition host Bob Oakes.

The ruling extends to the Internet the long-standing practice of instructing jurors to refrain from discussing their cases.

"The difference now is that it's a lot easier to talk to a lot of people than it was in, you know, 1950," Frank said. "It's the ability to communicate quickly and with so many people that changes the game."

According to the Boston Globe, the Appeals Court's ruling came in a 2009 larceny case in which three jurors made comments about the trial on Facebook.

The Appeals Court agreed with a lower court ruling that upheld the larceny trial verdict. But, the Globe reports, the Appeals Court said the case "raised sufficient concerns to warrant further inquiry."

Frank told us he doesn't think we've seen a case in Massachusetts that has had its verdict flipped due to online postings.

Frank also acknowledged how difficult it is for judges to police social media comments, but said "you have to sort of be even more forceful in your judge instructions."

Click the button atop the post to hear the full interview with David Frank.

This program aired on May 14, 2012.


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