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Twittering From the Courtroom? Not So Fast

On his New York Personal Injury Law Blog, Eric Turkewitz writes that although Houston criminal defense attorney Mark Bennett is "live-twittering" today (here) while his protege picks a jury, at least one federal court ruled just last week that the federal rules prohibit tweets from court.

In United States v. Shelnutt (M.D. Ga. Nov. 2), a federal court in Georgia ruled that Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure prohibits “tweeting” from the courtroom and that Rule 53 does not unconstitutionally restrict freedom of the press.

Rule 53 states that the "court must not permit the taking of photographs in the courtroom during judicial proceedings or the broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom.” The Shellnutt court found that “broadcasting” includes "sending electronic messages from a courtroom that contemporaneously describe the trial proceedings and are instantaneously available for public viewing." The court stated that it "cannot be reasonably disputed that 'twittering' ... would result in casting to the general public and thus making widely known the trial proceedings."

The immediate result of the court's decision is to reject a request from a reporter for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer that he be allowed to use his BlackBerry during the Shellnutt criminal case in order to send updates to his newspaper's Twitter feed. However, as Turkewitz observes, the temptation to report on trials via Twitter is something that will now likely present an issue for numerous courts.

Posted by Bruce Carton on November 9, 2009 at 03:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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