[Social Precedent] Juror Faces Jail For Facebooking Defendant

One of the interesting aspects of social media moving into every area of our lives is the setting of legal precedent based on social media interaction.

Social media has opened the proverbial can of worms when it comes to the law. Are social network activities legally protected under the First Amendment? The Fourth Amendment? In a space where planes of access can be far more level, what kind of discretion is warranted in interaction? Do restraining orders cover social media? To what degree?

It seems like every day, courts and legal systems are deliberating on how best to handle cases- in increasing numbers- that stray into the legally murky lawlessness that is the social media sphere. One such case is in the headlines in England, where a juror admitted to contempt of court after she engaged in Facebook interactions with a defendant.

40-year-old juror Joanna Fraill admits to contacting 34-year-old defendant Jamie Sewart during the trial, and according to PC World, some of their interactions seem to have raised juror propriety concerns by any standard of judgement:

“what’s happenin with the other charge??” Sewart reportedly asked Fraill over a Facebook chat on Aug. 3. [Read a full transcript here.]

Fraill asked Sewart to clarify her question, and then responded “cant get anyone to go either no one budging pleeeeese don’t say anything cause Jamie they could all miss trial and I will get 4cked to0.”

Although Sewart had already been acquitted at the time, the interactions call into question later convictions in the same case, and one co-defendant who was convicted is requesting his verdict be overturned due to the Facebook brouhaha. Eesh.

Cases like these will be interesting to watch as law develops, and hopefully- in the States at least- courts and lawmakers will critically weigh constitutional protections against new technologies available to law enforcement when developing laws and statutes concerning the legal role of social media and social networks.

But expect to see more people like Fraill fall afoul of laws they may not have known they’ve broken, which is a scary concept. Probably the best we can hope for is lawmakers considering analogous real-life situations- had Fraill dropped into Sewart’s house while the trail was occurring, for instance, a similar outcome could have been expected.

Both Fraill and Sewart face two years in jail, and sentencing in the case is expected Thursday.



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