Court upholds embezzlement conviction even though two jurors went on Facebook to bitch about jury duty

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals today upheld a jury's conviction of a bookkeeper at Bridgewater State College for embezzling more than $355,000 in a year.

Clare Werner argued the conviction should be appealed because her lawyer discovered two of the jurors had posted complaints about being selected for the jury on Facebook and because the trial judge dismissed her complaint about that online activity even before Facebook had responded to the judge's subpoena for records related to the post.

But the Massachusetts Court of Appeals rejected the argument, saying that while the jurors probably shouldn't have posted anything at all, their posts revealed no information about the specific case and, more important, their posts contained no evidence that anybody outside the courtroom had supplied them with anything that might prejudice them in their deliberations. The wife of one of the jurors did reply to his complaint about being forced to server on a jury with a note reading "Anyway, just send her to Framingham quickly so you can be home for dinner on time," but the appeals court said this only showed the juror's "attitudinal exposition" about jury duty, not any prejudice against Werner.

The fact that Werner herself admitted "that she had stolen money on numerous occasions" meant the judge didn't really have to wait for Facebook's answer, the court added.

Still, the court continued, jurors should knock this nonsense off and not risk problems by communicating via social networks while they're in the middle of a trial or deliberations:

In the instant case, the trial judge had been quite explicit in her instructions. On the first day of trial, she instructed the jurors "not to chat about the case. Don't discuss it with anyone. Don't chat among yourselves.... Each morning I'm to ask you if you have spoken about the case to anyone ... have you read anything or heard anything about the case.... Because if you do read anything, if you do some investigation of your own, if you Google this, ... it results in a mistrial." Before releasing the jurors on the first day, she reiterated these points and inquired at the beginning of each trial day whether the jurors had talked about the case with anyone.

Apparently, even these instructions were not enough to keep jurors from at least alluding to their jury service on social media Web sites. More explicit instructions about the use of social media and the Internet may therefore be required. Instructions not to talk or chat about the case should expressly extend to electronic communications and social media, and discussions about the use of the Internet should expressly go beyond prohibitions on research. Jurors should not research, describe, or discuss the case on- or off-line. Jurors must separate and insulate their jury service from their digital lives. The Jury Commissioner also may wish to consider including in the Trial Juror's Handbook, which is distributed to all prospective jurors, an explicit warning about the use of social media during service as a juror.

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    Comments

    How Did the Lawyer Even Find Out??

    By on

    How did the lawyer even find out about these Facebook posts without friending all the jurors?

    Additionally, I think there's a huge difference between posting "Jury duty...rats!" and "Jury duty, got selected for such-and-so trial, totally guilty--dontcha think?"

    Would love to know what the jurors actually posted.

    It's in the decision

    By on

    It has both their posts and some of the responses they got.

    Also says the lawyer read about jurors posting to Facebook and decided to look up the ones in her case - and sure enough, two of them had public walls.

    Posting about jury duty

    I've often seen people post to LiveJournal or Facebook about the fact that they are serving jury duty. Nothing more specific, just that they are on a jury. Is that no longer allowed?

    Boy Howdie!

    By on

    Thanks Adam. The open profile. What an idiot!

    BOY HOWDIE I KNOW THEM GUILTY ONES!

    Yessiree, next time I have jury duty (I'm clear 'till 2017--gotta like that about NYS) that is exactly what I'm going to go into the courtroom yelling.

    And then I will post about it on Facebook (or its 2017 equivalent.)