Sep 19, 2014

Juror's Online Research Leads to Murder Reversal

Research by a juror in a Pennsylvania trial which uncovered the defendant's prior involvement with the law has led a judge to order a new trial in a murder case in which the defendant has been on death row since 2007.

This marks the second known time that a murder conviction has been overturned because of a juror's online research, although in that case the reversal was also based on a juror who fell asleep during the trial. See Erickson Dimas-Martinez v. State, 2011 Ark. 515, 385 S.W.3d 238 (2011).

The defendant in the Pennsylvania case is Bryan S. Galvin, who was convicted of the 2006 murder of Kristofer Kolesnik and sentenced to death. Galin's appeal based on various alleged problems with the trial was rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Com. v. Galvin, 603 Pa. 625, 985 A.2d 783 (Pa. 2009), cert. denied, Galvin v. Pennsylvania, 559 U.S. 1051 (2010).

Galvin raised the juror misconduct issue in a subsequent argument before the trial court. 

During the trial, the judge instructed the jurors -- who were bused in daily from Luzerne County after a local jury from Berks County could not be seated because of publicity about Galvin's assault of a deputy sheriff -- to not do their own research about the case. Despite this admonition, a juror conducted research online and learned of the assault, and discovered that Galvin had been acquitted in a prior murder case after convictions in two trials in that case were reversed.

It is unclear whether the instructions included a specific discussion of research online and social media, as I and others have advocated.

While the juror who discovered the information testified that she did not do the research until after the verdict, two other jurors said that she had shared the information with them while the trial was ongoing.

“A typical juror exposed to such information would be unavoidably concerned with the idea of acquitting a violent man — one who had killed before and who could possibly kill again,” President Judge Paul M. Yatron wrote in an opinion released Monday, according to The Reading Eagle.

This reversal, while apparently appropriate in this case, reinforces that threat that ubiquitous internet and social media access poses to established notions of courts' control of information available to jurors. This is a problem that is not going to go away, and may require the judicial system to re-examine many of its assumptions and procedures.

(h/t Prof. Thaddeus Hoffmeister's Juries blog)


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