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Social media ‘growing problem’ among jurors

Jurors on college embezzlement case post on Facebook about trial.

Despite commenting that the use of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter by active jurors is becoming “a growing problem,” state Appeals Court judges denied a woman’s request for a new trial.

Clare Werner, a student accounts bookkeeper who was found guilty in 2009 of embezzling $355,000 from Bridgewater State University, sought a new trial after her lawyer discovered jurors posted about it on Facebook during jury empanelment.

The judge in that trial refused her request for a new one and the Appeals Court judges affirmed that decision in a ruling released Wednesday.

At issue by the defense is that the judge ruled against the new trial before Facebook responded to a subpoena seeking more communications to and from the jurors.

The appeals judges said in their ruling that Facebook did not respond to the subpoena or telephone calls from the court.

The posts quoted in the Appeals Court ruling show that two of the jurors posted about being selected for the trial, however, the responses by other people urged the jurors to find the suspect guilty.

“[T]he postings involved the type of ‘attitudinal expositions’ on jury service, protracted trials, and guilt or innocence that fall far short of the prohibition against extraneous influence,” the Appeal Court judges wrote in their ruling. “Anyone viewing the jurors’ postings on Facebook would have had no idea
of the name of the defendant, what crime she was accused of committing.”

The Appeals Court judges also use the ruling as an “opportunity to comment” on jury instructions and “jurors’ inappropriate use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, a growing problem faced by courts around the country.”

They said in their ruling that although the trial judge was “quite explicit” in her instructions to the jury, they suggested that more specific instructions be used in future trials.

Werner’s attorney did not return a message Thursday.

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