As our society has increasingly become more dependent on the use of technology and social media, it is no surprise that our court system is now combating the use of social media within the justice system. More specifically, a recent issue has surfaced regarding the effects social media could have on jury deliberations. Jurors have repeatedly made headlines for their misconduct on their phones throughout their jury service; including being caught using their phones during the deliberation process in order to conduct their own research on the case at hand.
Unfortunately for the courts, the jurors are not the only ones in which they should be concerned about using social media to effect the deliberation process. In August, a Michigan woman was arrested after a juror informed the Judge that he had received a “friend request” on Facebook from the defendant’s girlfriend, Brianna Trovato. Ms. Trovato’s boyfriend was found guilty on six counts of manufacturing with intent to deliver marijuana and six related firearms offenses. Ms. Trovato herself is now facing contempt of court charges for the Facebook friend request she sent the juror.
The juror never accepted theFacebook "friend request" from Ms. Trovato, but on the second day of deliberations he told the rest of the jurors that Ms. Trovato had attempted to contact him by sending him a "friend request" via Facebook. Often when sending a friend request, the person receiving the request can see the person’s picture and limited personal information. The jurors were aware of Ms. Trovato’s identity and her relationship to the defendant as she attended court every day and did not attempt to hide her relationship with the defendant.
Even though the "friend request" was never accepted, the "friend request" could have possibly affected the deliberation process and thus affected the outcome of the case. Announcing during deliberations that the girlfriend of the defendant requested to be your friend on Facebook is bound to affect the conversation that was held during the deliberation process. Some of the jurors may have wondered what her motive for sending this request was. Some jurors may have been concerned how she was able to find this particular juror on Facebook. All of these considerations could have skewed the deliberations and shifted some of the focus away from the facts presented to them. The defendant’s attorney, Amberg, made his opinion of the deliberations apparent with is statement to the press,“This apparently happened during their deliberations. Who knows what affect it might have had on other jurors trying to decide on a verdict. I know that I see this as an excellent grounds for appealing his conviction and obtaining a new trial.”
If this case is appealed and a new trial is granted, it can be argued that perhaps Ms. Trovato got the results she was intending to invoke. Should a third party not related to the case be able to cause a new trial by the push of a button? If defendant’s are sure this particular trial is not going well, should they be able to have their friends and family "friend request" jury members in order to have their case tried again, in hopes of a more favorable outcome? Friends and family members may be easily tempted to send such a "friend request" if the punishment or penalty for doing so is low compared to the benefit of having a new trial granted if the defendant is likely to have an unfavorable outcome. If they are merely slapped on the wrist or perhaps given a minor fine this may be worth the outcome of their loved ones having a chance at a new trial.