In what is believed to be a first in the country, a 24-year-old Boca Raton man, Alexander Sutton, faces contempt of court charges for posting comments on Facebook while serving as a juror. People’s desire to use social media while serving on juries has raised concerns nationwide. But Mr. Sutton is believed to be the first juror in the county to face up to six months in jail for disobeying a judge’s blanket ” and repeated ” order to refrain from using the Internet to broadcast his views on a case he was deciding.
While many attorneys will tell you that they have had trials spoiled by jurors who just can’t stop themselves from going online, they’ve never seen a juror actually arrested and facing criminal charges. In most cases offenders are given lectures from a judge. Sutton, in contrast, was placed in handcuffs on May 20 after one of the attorneys involved in the case discovered his Facebook diatribes and showed them to the judge. While an alternate juror was tapped and the trial continued, Cox ordered Sutton to return to court on June 20 to explain why he should not be held in contempt of court.
Unlike jurors who listen to the lawyers and judge to refrain from using Social Media while on a jury, Sutton did not. In addition, the comments Sutton posted were not just whining that he was on a jury. Sutton made very specific comments about the case itself. The comments made it clear to all that he couldn’t be and never was fair and impartial.
It appears the comments weren’t the only reason Cox treated Sutton harshly. In his order, Cox said that when questioned under oath about whether he had posted comments about the trial on Facebook, Sutton lied. By then, Cox was holding printouts of what the juror had written.
Since Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media exploded in popularity, the court system has struggled with how to deal with their impact on jury trials. While courts have long warned jurors not to read or watch media accounts of a trial or do any of their own research, in 2010 the Florida Supreme Court revised jury instructions to include social media. The instructions are direct and firm: œYou must not use electronic devices or computers to talk about this case, including tweeting, texting, blogging, emailing, posting information on a website or chat room, or any other means at all. Further, they are told: œYou must not disclose your thoughts about your jury service or ask for advice on how to decide any case. Such warnings are given repeatedly ” from the time jurors assemble in a waiting room until they are sworn in. Most judges repeat a version of the instructions before releasing jurors on breaks, for lunch or at the end of the day. Attorneys said they know most jurors probably violate court orders by talking to their spouses or close friends. However, social media is different. People’s ability to have their message reach thousands of people is concerning when they are making remarks about a specific trial.