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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ind. Courts - "State could limit Twitter use in courtrooms"

That is the headline to Dan Carden's story today in the NWI Times, about yesterday's Court of Appeals decision in Christopher Compton v. State of Indiana (see ILB summary here, 2nd opinion). Some quotes :

A three-judge panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals called Wednesday for the Hoosier legal community to re-evaluate its understanding of “broadcasting,” and decide how to regulate courtroom use of social media platforms by spectators and trial participants — including jurors.

“When the ethics rules regarding ‘broadcasting’ were written, social media was a vastly different medium than today,” wrote Judge Margret Robb.

“Given the rapidly evolving relationship between Twitter and our judicial system, we believe it is time for all appropriate judicial, attorney and ethics committees to come together to specifically address these concerns.”

The Twitter issue was raised in an appeal of an Evansville triple murder conviction.

Christopher Compton, 34, was sentenced last year to 200 years in prison for starting a 2014 house fire that killed Keri Jones, 28, Jazmine Jones, 3, and Donald Lankford, 76.

During Compton’s trial, Vanderburgh Superior Judge Robert Pigman authorized a local reporter to tweet about courtroom proceedings after he advised jurors and witnesses not to use the internet to gather information about the case.

Compton argued in his appeal that the live tweeting was equivalent to broadcasting the trial, which generally is not permitted in Indiana, and that it violated his right to due process by inherently prejudicing the jury against him.

The appeals court unanimously rejected the argument that tweeting is inherently prejudicial, since the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to find that even television broadcasting of a trial is automatically contrary to a defendant’s interests.

It also affirmed Compton’s convictions and sentence after finding no indication that Compton was harmed in any way by the live tweeting and that the evidence against him was overwhelming.

At the same time, the court left unresolved the question of whether live tweeting is “broadcasting,” while also noting that Twitter use by prosecutors and jurors in other states has led to mistrials.

“The pretrial instructions in this case did not instruct the jury not to refrain from seeking information through social media applications. Rather, the instructions merely instructed the jurors not to receive information from the internet,” Robb said.

“Given how easily one may access the internet in this technological age, we fear such an instruction may not be specific enough to deter jurors from using Twitter now and in the future.”

As a result, she said, the state court system needs to decide how to approach the use of social media during criminal trials.

ILB: But is the issue the medium, or the message? News of the trial will be "broadcast": in the newspaper, via the airwaves, and online. This was a multi-day trial, each day's proceedings were likely reported on the nightly news and in the morning paper. Reporters may have called in stories during breaks in proceeding during the day. Or they may have emailed their editors. Or they may have tweeted during breaks. Or they may have, if permitted by the court, tweeted or blogged, or even emailed their editors, while sitting in the courtroom. Is it reasonable to try to distinguish promulgation of the message from the route taken or the medium used? Or to restrict the messenger?

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 25, 2016 10:08 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts