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A juror in Arlington, Texas found out the hard way that sending a Facebook friend request to the defendant in his case was a bad idea. Jonathan Hudson was a juror in a civil auto accident trial when he decided to send a friend request to Courtney Downing, the defendant. Downing immediately notified her lawyer about the friend request, and the lawyer informed the presiding judge. Hudson had also written on his Facebook page that he was selected to be on a jury. He was charged with four counts of contempt of court and dismissed from the case. The trial proceeded with eleven jurors.
Chris Ponder, the prosecutor, stated, “I’ve never seen this before.” He acknowledges that this likely will not be the first time a juror sends a friend request to a party in a case. With over 750 million active Facebook users, it is only inevitable that a juror will make this mistake again.
Hudson pled guilty to the four counts of contempt of court and was sentenced to two days of community service. After the court dismissed Hudson from the case, he contacted Downing and apologized to her, claiming that he believed she was someone else. According to court records, Downing did not believe Hudson’s excuse.
Hudson made a big mistake, but I wonder, how explicit were the jury instructions? If they did not state that a juror cannot send a Facebook friend request to a party in the case, should Hudson have been held liable? Probably so. Jury instructions usually include language about impartiality, and being a Facebook friend with someone does not make them impartial in the courtroom. Some would argue that they do not know the thousands of friends they have on Facebook, so they could be impartial as a juror. However, that is a fuzzy standard and it would be difficult to determine whether or not someone knows his Facebook friend well enough to preclude him from serving as a juror in the case. Either way, it seems as though jury instructions will have to start explicitly addressing issues that the myriad of social networking sites have raised.
– Sophia Behnia
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