US & World

U.K. juror gets eight months in jail for contacting defendant on Facebook

Joanne Fraill arrives at the High Court, in London, on June 14, 2011.
Joanne Fraill arrives at the High Court, in London, on June 14, 2011.
Ben Stansall/ AFP/ Getty Images

In the first case of its kind in the U.K., a woman was convicted of contempt of court because she reached out to one of the defendants on Facebook. The clash between social media and the courtroom continues.

She used Facebook to exchange messages with one of the defendants. Now, juror Joanne Fraill has been sentenced to eight months in jail by a court in London.

The Guardian believes it's the first case in the U.K. of someone being tried, convicted and sentenced for contempt of court for using the Web while sitting on a jury.

As The Daily Mail explains, the 40-year-old Fraill "revealed highly sensitive details about jury room discussions when she swapped online messages with Jamie Sewart, 34, who had been acquitted" in a high-profile drugs trial. "The jury was still considering charges against other defendants and her actions led the case – a second retrial – to collapse."

Fraill admitted, the Guardian adds, that she sent the messages and said she did so because she felt "empathetic" toward Stewart.

The British press is referring to Fraill as the "Facebook juror" because she used the social media site to contact Stewart.

As commercial litigator Denise Zamore wrote last year in Minority Trial Lawyer, "use of social media has become so ubiquitous that [U.S.] courts have been forced to take notice. ... Recognizing the increase in social media site usage, on January 28, 2010, the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management issued model jury instructions 'to help deter jurors from using electronic technologies to research or communicate about cases on which they serve.' "

Wired has a copy of those model jury instructions posted here.

Back in September 2009, Talk of the Nation explored the problem of social media in the courtroom. Judge Gary Randall from the District Court of Douglas County, Neb., said that if a juror starts "Googling" a defendant, then the jury could end up considering information "that the judge probably excluded from the trial. ... It's a total nightmare."

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