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Reporter's Tweet Posting Photo of Juror Causes Mistrial in Kan. Murder Case

As I discussed here last week, there are no real standards in place regarding reporters who wish to cover a trial by tweeting from the courtroom. A report last year by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press found rules in this area, if they even exist, tend to "vary from state to state, and at times from trial to trial."  

To date I had seen two primary objections to the use of Twitter by reporters in court, neither of which seem particularly compelling: (1) in a high-profile trial, reporters' tweets might reach a juror since Twitter does not require active pursuit of information and a juror might follow a person on Twitter who was discussing the trial; and (2) reporters pecking out tweets during the trial might be a distraction to the jury. I think the first concern above should be manageable as the court can instruct jurors to stay off of Twitter for the duration of the trial, similar to the way jurors are already instructed to avoid other media about the case. The second concern also does not seem like a significant issue, as reporters who want to tweet can be asked to sit in the back of the courtroom and also advised that they may only tweet if they can do so without becoming a distraction to the jurors and other courtroom participants.

Today, however, I saw one more issue pop up with respect to reporters tweeting from court that actually led to an unfortunate mistrial in a Topeka, Kan., murder case. The Topeka Capitol-Journal reports (via the ABA Journal) that on Wednesday, in the trial of Austin Tabor, District Court Judge Mark Braun declared a mistrial after a a Capital-Journal reporter who live-tweeted the trial's opening the day before included a photo that showed one or more of the jurors. Under Kansas Supreme Court rules, 

Individual jurors shall not be photographed. In courtrooms where photography is impossible without including the jury as part of the unavoidable background, the photography is permitted, but close-ups which identify individual jurors are prohibited.

The Capital-Journal said it "regrets the error and loss of the court’s time. We will use this as a training opportunity for our staff members as they strive to bring information to our readers in digital and print media.”

Posted by Bruce Carton on April 12, 2012 at 04:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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