DWI Defense Lawyer Douglas Kans Articles Facebook Post Enough To Get Murder Conviction Tossed

Facebook Post Enough To Get Murder Conviction Tossed

By Douglas Kans  Sep. 22, 2013 3:05p

If people didn’t already understand just how seriously the justice system takes social media contact between participants in criminal proceedings, a recent Tennessee case should serve as a clear demonstration. The Tennessee Supreme Court issued a decision earlier this month that made clear a man’s murder conviction hinged on a Facebook exchange between a juror and one of the prosecution’s expert witnesses.

The trouble in the case began during the trial of William Smith who was accused of murdering a female acquaintance in Nashville, TN. At some point during the trial an assistant medical examiner, Adele Lewis, took the stand to testify. Lewis was asked by prosecutors to discuss the victim’s cause of death, an important element of any murder trial. That evening, after the proceedings had let out, a male juror and former social acquaintance of Lewis’, sent her a Facebook message letting her know that he had been impressed with her testimony.

The message from juror Glenn Mitchell said that he thought Lewis had done “a great job today on the witness stand” and that he was “not sure if [Lewis] had recognized” him. Mitchell then concluded his message by exclaiming how impressed he was with the great way Lewis had explained the victim’s cause of death to the jury.

When Lewis received the message she responded, acknowledging that she too thought she had seen Mitchell during the trial. However, Lewis quickly noted that their contact posed a serious danger that a mistrial could be declared. Mitchell responded to Lewis’ concern by agreeing that there might be trouble, which is why he said he had not mentioned his familiarity with her to anyone on the jury.

The next morning Lewis sent an email to the presiding judge, informing him of the contact with the male juror. At that point the jury was already an hour into deliberations and, rather than hold a hearing on the potential impact of the revelation, the judge sat on the information, only casually informing both sides after the verdict had been reached that he had determined the contact to be of little importance.

According to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear Smith’s appeal, it was this failure to hold a hearing on the evidence that led to the legal trouble. Given the potentially significant impact that the male juror’s contact and familiarity with the assistant medical examiner could have on the case, the Supreme Court said that the matter, and the Facebook message, should have been given vastly more attention by the presiding judge.

The Supreme Court unanimously remanded Smith’s case back to the lower court and said that unless the state was able to definitively prove that the male juror should not have been disqualified as a result of his Facebook contact with Lewis, Smith’s conviction ought to be thrown out and the murder case retried. The Supreme Court sent a resounding message that improper contact between members of the jury and participants in a criminal trial ought to be taken seriously, regardless of whether the contact occurs in person or via social media.

Kans Law Firm is an exclusively criminal defense firm located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They represent individuals charged with all levels of criminal charges including serious felony charges. If you would like more information about their services, please contact them by visiting their website.

Source: “Juror, witness Facebook exchange imperils Tennessee murder conviction,” by Greg Bothelo, published at CNN.com.

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