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May 16, 2012

Washington Courts Confront Twitter Appeal

A man convicted in 2010 of murdering Mark Stover, a “dog whisperer” with celebrity clients including Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, ballplayer Ichiro Suzuki and musician Eddie Vedder, has filed a motion for a new trial, citing the 20 tweets that one juror posted during the trial.

The tweets, by 19-year-old juror Caleb Chase, provided a running commentary of Chase's experiences as a juror. Some examples:
"On jury trial that is expected 4-5 weeks. Wow, talk about intense. This is going to be an interesting month." - Sept. 29, 2010 (start of trial)
"Jury panel room has fresh coffee, water bottles, sodas and an assortment of muffins and hard candy. Not bad!" - Sept. 29, 2010

"Wow. Sitting in the jury duty room listening to people casually having a conversation about new age rituals and no clue what to say." - Oct. 18, 2010 (during jury deliberations)

"Finished jury today. Defendant was convicted. It was an intense four weeks." - Oct. 22, 2010 (day of verdict)

"Oh, and Dateline [NBC] wants to interview any/all of us on the jury. I'm think[ing] that I will probably say yes." - Oct. 22, 2010
None of Chase's tweets appear to have disclosed the details of the case, or anything about the substance of the jury deliberations, until after the verdict. In fact, when another Twitter user asked him about the case, Chase wrote, "I just can't say what case or anything until it's over lol."

More on the case and the move for a new trial are in Rick Anderson's Seattle Times story, in which I am quoted.

According to the story, "this is thought to be the first Twitter appeals case in [Washington] state history." But it is not the first Washington case involving juror use of the Internet or social media.

In State v. Boling, 131 Wash. App. 329, 127 P.3d 740 (Wash. Ct. App., Div. 3 2006), rev. denied, 158 Wash. 2d 1011, 145 P.3d 1214 (2006) (table), the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s grant of a new trial in a manslaughter case in which a juror did Internet research on alcohol poisoning as a cause of death, when the medical examiner testified that the cause of death was a brain injury (subdural hematoma) resulting from blunt force trauma to the head.

In a 2010 murder case, the judge was outraged that a juror had tweeted about the trial, but was dissuaded by the prosecution and defense attorneys from removing the juror because only one alternate would have remained. (The trial was of Myron Wynn, for the 1996 “cold case” murder of Bob Wykel. See Levi Pulkkinen, Diamond helps reopen murder case, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Feb. 4, 2009, http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Diamond-helps-reopen-murder-case-1299345.php.)

“We’ve been doing this for 250 years now,” the judge said. “I can tell you it works when we do it this way. It fails when we don’t.” Levi Pulkkinen, Judge to juror: Stop tweeting about trial, Seattle 911 — A Police and Crime Blog, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Nov. 17, 2010, http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattle911/2010/11/17/judge-to-juror-stop-tweeting-about-trial/.

The case ended in a mistrial anyway, due to a hung jury.

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