Murder conviction overturned after juror tweets about coffee

Eric Pfeiffer

An Arkansas man who was sentenced to death for the murder of a 17-year-old boy has had his conviction overturned after a juror tweeted about pending deliberations--and the poor quality of  courthouse coffee. In granting a request for the convicted 26-year-old defendant in the case, Erickson Dimas-Martinez, the Arkansas Supreme Court also found the verdict had been compromised when one of the jurors fell asleep in court.

The offending tweets by juror Randy Franco did not discuss specific details of the case, but the judge had specifically warned jurors in advance and in writing, "Just remember, never discuss this case over your cell phone. And don't Twitter anybody about this case." Franco had taken to his Twitter account to announce that "the coffee here sucks"--and in another tweet protested by Dias-Martinez's defense team, he quoted a song lyric, evidently from a Christian metalcore band:

Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken . . . We each define the great line.

Franco--whom court documents only discussed as "Juror 2"--was not thrown off the case. But his tweeting did catch the attention of lawyers and the judge.

"Juror 2′s tweets about the trial were very much public discussions," Associate Justice Donald Corbin wrote in the decision overturning Dimas-Martinez's conviction. "Even if such discussions were one-sided it is in no way appropriate for a juror to state musings, thoughts or other information about a case in such a public fashion. Most mobile phones now allow instant access to a myriad of information. Not only can jurors access Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites but they can also access news sites that might have information about a case."

In the case's appeal, the state Supreme Court found that Franco had violated instructions to not discuss the case in any manner, including through social media.

Janice Vaughn, one of Dimas-Martinez lawyers, said that the ruling was "not about your right to tweet or be on Facebook. It's about protecting the right of the person who may end up behind bars or end up losing a significant amount of money in a civil case."

In the opinion summary of the appeal, the Arkansas  Supreme Court wrote: "Because we conclude that the one juror sleeping and a second juror tweeting constituted juror misconduct, we reverse and remand for a new trial."

In addition to approving the request for a retrial, the Arkansas Supreme Court has indicated it will also review the question of whether jurors should be permitted access to mobile phone devices during trials.

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