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Is Tweeting From the Courtroom by Reporters Too Distracting for Jurors?

As discussed here in late March, convicted fraudster Allen Stanford recently asked, unsuccessfully, for a new trial because the court "let reporters send Twitter messages from the courtroom, even while the judge and lawyers were talking outside the jury's presence, and failed to instruct jurors to stay off Twitter." Stanford's lawyers argued that these tweets are "likely to have reached a juror, since Twitter does not require active pursuit of information, but rather, if a friend of the juror's was following the 'Stanford trial,' the tweets might automatically show up on a juror's Twitter account."

Stanford's motion was promptly denied, but perhaps it would have been more persuasive if Stanford had argued that the reporters' tweets prejudiced him in another way -- by being too distracting to the jury. In the high-profile trial that started this week of the man accused of killing the family of singer/actress Jennifer Hudson, the court has barred reporters from tweeting or posting messages to Facebook from inside the courtroom. The Associated Press reports that according to a court spokesman, the judge "didn't want constant typing on cell phones to distract jurors and other courtroom participants."

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reported last year that reporters' tweeting from court is a quickly growing trend, but that there is "no set standard regarding tweeting from courtrooms and the rules tend to vary from state to state, and at times from trial to trial." In the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray concerning the death of Michael Jackson, for example, tweeting was permitted and one local news station sent out nearly 1,900 tweets to about 3,000 followers. RCFP notes that in a tax fraud trial in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Mark Bennett of Iowa, Bennett allowed a reporter to tweet about the proceedings but asked the reporter to sit in the back of the courtroom so that her typing would not be distracting.

Some reporters who wish to tweet from the courtroom view it as a First Amendment issue. Ron Sylvester, a court reporter for The Wichita Eagle believes that when courts ban the use of Twitter they are "effectively shutting people out from the courtroom who care about these proceedings. ... If you say no tweeting, you might as well say no reporting allowed," he said. "I do think it's a First Amendment issue."

Posted by Bruce Carton on April 6, 2012 at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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