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Social Media In The Courtroom

While social media is everywhere, it seems it does not belong in one place: the courtroom.

Recently, a woman's Twitter messages about partying and traveling lowered the damages awarded to her by the court. The jury returned with a $237,000 verdict, far less than the $1.1 million the woman was asking after a car accident left her with a broken arm, and unable to do her job as a hairstylist. Her Twitter made jurors skeptical of her claims, and gave the jury the impression she was not really injured.

However, this is not the first time social media has disrupted or interfered with a trial. In Miami, a judge was forced to declare a mistrial in September 2012 following an assistant public defender posting a photo to her Facebook. The photo in question was of her client's leopard-print underwear. She also made comments suggesting she wasn't sure of her client's innocence on her page. The public defender, Anya Cintron Stern, has since been fired for her actions.

Along with the posting of photos from inside the courtroom, Facebook friendships are also coming under the spotlight. A Broward circuit judge was recently taken off a case following the discovery that he was Facebook friends with the prosecutor.

Jurors are also disrupting trials with their social media use. A Florida court held a juror in contempt and sentenced him to three days in jail after he apparently used Facebook to 'friend' a defendant in a personal injury case. Another incident occurred in New Jersey, after the family of a defendant looked up jurors on social media sites, and found comments made by one juror, leading to a mistrial of a first-degree murder case.

Florida is now one of 20 states that instruct jurors to stay away from social media. The Florida Supreme Court explicitly banned the use of social media by jurors in 2012, along with the use of electronic devices. From 1999 to 2010, there have been at least 90 verdicts challenged because of internet-related juror misconduct, according to the Daily Business Review.

Source: Daily Business Review, "Twitter sinks woman's award after car wreck," Jan. 2, 2013.

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