When Jonathan Hudson of Arlington, Texas sent a Facebook friend request to Courtney Downing, he probably didn’t realize that it would eventually result in four charges of contempt of court. At the time of the friend request, Hudson was taking a break from delivering pizzas to serve on a Texas jury. Courtney Downing happened to be the defendant in the case that concerned a 2008 car wreck and Hudson thought it would be a brilliant idea to befriend Downing on Facebook during the trial. Downing reported the friend request to her attorney and this led the judge to dismiss Hudson from the jury immediately.
After being dismissed, Hudson contacted Downing on Facebook yet again through the messaging system pretending to have befriended the wrong Courtney Downing. This course of action yielded no help for Hudson and he ended up pleading guilty to contempt charges last week. Hudson could have faced up to six months in prison for his actions, but the court sentenced him to 16 hours of community service to be determined by the court bailiff.
Texas recently added specific language regarding the misuse of social media to the instructions that a judge reads to potential jurors before a trial begins. This inclusion specifically targets updating Facebook and Twitter status with details of an ongoing trial. With periods of lengthy downtime during a typical trial, jurors often turn to smartphones to pass the time.
A similar case happened in the UK during June 2011 when a juror reached out on Facebook to the defendant facing charges around drug distribution. The illegal communication caused the entire trial to collapse and the juror faces a potential penalty for the entire cost of the trial, an astounding 6 million pounds. The juror, a 40 year old mother of three, was eventually sentenced to eight months in prison for the contempt charges.
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