tainting juries

Social Media Poses a Challenge for Courtrooms

By: Joseph Giacalone

For an investigator, avoiding contamination of your witnesses and victims was a task that was hard enough. Now, that task has become Herculean with our interconnected social lives, 24 hour news channels and mobile technology. What do we need to do?

The District Attorney in Ferguson, MO., Bob McCulloch, who is covering the police involved shooting of Michael Brown has enough headaches, now, he may have a new one. The Washington Post reported that evidence existed that a potential grand jury member had been talking and his / her friends posted it on social media. The post stated “There isn’t enough at this point to warrant an arrest.” After the tweet was posted, it was deleted along with the account. Did she do something wrong? Deleting your account after something like this is like dropping bleach on a crime scene. We should all know by now that nothing is ever deleted from the Internet. At the time of the Washington Post article, the St. Louis Prosecutor’s Office was conducting an investigation into the matter. Now that the verdict is out, could it have all been a coincidence? The police don’t believe in coincidences – we are skeptics by trade.

If I were a defense attorney in a high profile case, I’d hire a team of social media experts to scour the Internet for any posts related to the case. Each post / tweet would be examined to determine if witness and or jury contamination has occurred. If it can be proven, then it is an instant mistrial. Therefore, the DA’s office needs to be monitoring the same activity.

All potential jurors are given explicit instructions regarding the secrecy of the grand jury process. If they break that trust, they could be charged with Contempt of Court. However, is that enough deterrence?