United States Courts
Western district of Missouri
COURT NEWS AND NOTES
In this day and age of ever changing technology, it is not surprising that the use of social media tools―i.e., Facebook, MySpace, blogs and Twitter―has caused concern for the courts. Most recently, a Michigan woman, while serving as a trial juror in a criminal case, posted on her Facebook account that she was looking forward to finding the defendant guilty. This personal comment caused her to be held in contempt of court. The judge in this case ordered her to pay a fine of $250 and to write a six-page essay on the Sixth Amendment.
Such use of social media is happening nationwide, resulting in mistrials and reversals, as well as the aforementioned contempt charges. In January 2010, the Judicial Conference of the United States issued “Twitter instructions” to all federal judges, suggesting they be read to jurors when the trial begins and again before deliberations begin. Some of the language in those instructions include “do not talk face-to-face or use any electronic device or media, such as the telephone, a cell or smart phone, Blackberry, PDA, computer, the Internet, any Internet service, any text or instant messaging service, any Internet chat room, blog or website such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube or Twitter, or any other way to communicate to anyone any information about this case.”
This matter is gaining attention with the federal judges in the Western District of Missouri. U.S. District Judge Greg Kays states, “The A.O. (Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts) has made trial judges very aware of the potential problems related to the use of social media in our court system.” Judge Kays intends to incorporate instructions regarding the use of social media into his own jury instructions.
U. S. Magistrate William A. Knox, chairman of the Sub-Committee on Model Criminal and Civil Jury Instructions for use in the 8th Circuit, says the committee is currently revising the instructions to take the social media issue into account. The working draft of the revised instructions is available from any member of the sub-committee. To contact a sub-committee member, or to review the instructions, you may visit the 8th Circuit Model Jury Instructions website at http://www.juryinstructions.ca8.uscourts.gov.
Kelsee Pierce, jury administrator, represented the Western District of Missouri at the Missouri Clerk’s College bi-annual conference on Sept. 9, 2010, in Osage Beach, Mo. The bi-annual conference is held each spring and fall and is sponsored by the Office of the State Courts Administrator. Pierce was invited to make a presentation in response to her being instrumental in creating the Missouri Jury Organization (MOJO).
Although many topics presented during the conference pertained to all facets of the court system, the majority relate to the Missouri State Courts and are directed to court clerks statewide. More often than not, state court personnel are unfamiliar with the federal process. Therefore, Pierce was called upon to present information relating to the federal court system. Her presentation covered the following areas:
Pierce’s innovativeness in creating MOJO has earned her recognition among colleagues and has put the WDMO in the forefront of the jury arena.