Court Finds Juror’s Facebook Friendship With Murder Victim’s Spouse Not Grounds For Disqualification
As you know, we often write about social media and the law, so we simply must direct your attention to last week’s McGaha v. Commonwealth, — S.W.3d —- (Ky. June 20, 2013), in which the appellant, convicted of murder, unsuccessfully argued that he was entitled to a new trial because one of the jurors failed to disclose that she was Facebook friends with the victim’s wife. Wow.
Apparently, the juror – identified in the opinion as “Juror 234” was questioned during voir dire about her relationship with anyone involved in the case. She admitted during questioning by the trial court that she knew “some of the [the victim’s] family, not close but I do know them.” She described the relationship as “casual” and noted that she worked with the victim’s nephew.
Sometime after the trial, the Appellant’s lawyers discovered that Juror 234 was one of the victim’s wife’s Facebook friends. (We wonder if his counsel investigated all of the juror’s social media presence.). After learning of the social media link, the Appellant sought a new trial based upon those grounds, a request which the trial court denied.
Unimpressed with the argument, the Kentucky Supreme Court parsed Juror 234’s answers to the voir dire questions, noting that although they were “succinct” she was never directly asked about any social media relationships. However, the best part of the opinion comes when the Kentucky Supreme Court addresses the issue of how meaningful a Facebook friendship really is:
It is now common knowledge that merely being friends on Facebook does not, per se, establish a close relationship from which bias or partiality on the part of a juror may reasonably be presumed. This principle is well illustrated in this case. Here, an attachment to the supplemental motion for a new trial that Appellant filed with the trial court discloses that Juror 234 had, at the time of the trial, 629 “friends” on Facebook. She could not possibly have had a disqualifying relationship with each one of them. As we held in Sluss, “ ‘[F]riendships’ on Facebook and other similar social networking websites do not necessarily carry the same weight as true friendships or relationships in the community, which are generally the concern during voir dire.” Therefore, no presumption arises about the nature of the relationship between a juror and another person with an interest in the litigation simply from their status as Facebook friends.
So there you have it. The appellant could not meet “the heavy burden” for challenging the verdict. Strangely, no one challenged her for cause on the grounds that she casually knew – and worked with – the victim’s family in the real world. Oh, well.