According to a story posted by the Associated Press earlier today, the murder conviction of death row inmate Erickson Dimas-Martinez was tossed out by the Arkansas Supreme Court because juror number 2 Randy Franco posted several public Twitter updates during the trial. In addition, another juror was sleeping at the trial. Dimas-Martinez had received the death penalty for the murder of 17-year-old Derrick Jefferson as well as life in prison for aggravated robbery. As with all trials, jurors in the Dimas-Martinez trial were ordered not to communicate with anyone about the case or post any information about the trial on the Internet.
In a tweet referencing the trial, Franco wrote “Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken…We each define the great line.” He also posted updates when each day of the trial started and complained about the coffee. In addition, Franco posted “It’s over” less than an hour before the jury’s verdict was read in court. According to Associate Justice Donald Corbin, Franco was warned during the trial that posting updates to Twitter was forbidden. Corbin stated “More troubling is the fact that after being questioned about whether he had tweeted during the trial, Juror 2 continued to tweet during the trial.” The Supreme Court justices of Arkansas recently asked a panel to look into restricting the use of smartphones during future trials.
While this trial may open the door for more restrictive rules about the use of cell phones within courtrooms in Arkansas, other states are also wrestling with the same issues. Two years ago, a building materials company attempted to get a $12.6 million judgement overturned after they noticed biased tweets on a juror’s Twitter account during the trial. During August 2011, an Arlington, Texas juror pleaded guilty to contempt charges after attempting to send a Facebook friend request to the female defendant of the trial.