Several months ago, we reported on the inherent pitfalls of social networking sites, such as facebook, in the realm of jury instructions.
That case involved a Bronx arson trial, which nearly resulted in a mistrial due to a juror trying to “friend” a trial witness.
Facebook and other avenues cyber-contact are obviously the most recent and technological means of potentially inappropriate juror contact. Nevertheless, it would appear that good old-fashioned note passing is still alive and well in Connecticut. In the well-publicized home invasion murder trial currently pending in New Haven Superior Court, an alternate juror purportedly passed a note to a court officer, suggesting that the two meet over the weekend.
Rather than play it safe and check the “maybe” box, as a few of us may have in the 7th grade, the court officer immediately (and wisely) turned the note over to the judge. Judge Blue called the note a “spectacular display of poor judgment” on the juror’s part, but thankfully elected to continue the proceedings, rather than grant the defense request for a mistrial.
The lesson to be taken here is the inherent unpredictability in jury trials. This alternate juror appears to have completely ignored judicial instructions to refrain from contacting persons involved in the proceeding — in a tragic, home invasion murder trial. If a juror would ignore instructions in a capital trial such as this one, it is not difficult to imagine equally inappropriate, and potentially more damaging juror behavior in a civil action involving admittedly much less serious allegations. To paraphrase former pitcher Joaquin Andujar’s comment on baseball, one can summarize jury trials in one word – “you never know.”
Thanks to Brian Gibbons for his contribution to this post.