Social Media and Rachel Jeantel – the Impact on the Zimmerman Case

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Deleted Tweets are still “out there”

MsDiamondThe government’s star witness in the George Zimmerman prosecution is a 19-year-old Miami woman who has used her Twitter account to comment about the murder case and this week tweeted followers a photo of her new manicure with the caption “Court nails.”

Her account that had contained a bit over 200 hundred tweets, now shows only 144.

What’s an attorney to do?

In a 2011 article for aija.org.au titled SOCIAL MEDIA – ITS IMPACT AND CHALLENGES ON COURT REPORTERS, JURIES AND WITNESSES, the paper asks:

The question for our Courts is not “will we allow social media in our courts” but more “how do we respond to its challenges and opportunities?”

    • Where will courts draw the line?
    • If twittering is OK, what about live streaming?
    • What about live blogging?
    • While it may be manageable in a civil case, what about criminal cases? Are jurors checking out their twitter feed during trials? Does it influence them?
    • What about reporters? What are they doing in court and outside court?

The risks identified in the paper include the risks of disruption to proceedings; risks to the fairness of court proceedings; risk of coaching witnesses.

Another report, 2012 CCPIO New Media Survey, New Media and the Courts: The Current Status and A Look at the Future” is available on the CCPIO website.

The report details that while new media impacts almost every facet of court operations from the delivery of services to balancing privacy and public access in managing court records, the CCPIO survey focuses on three areas specifically related to the mandate that courts support public trust and confidence in the judicial system:

    • Effects on court proceedings
    • Effects on ethics and conduct for judges and court employees
    • Effects on courts’ ability to promote understanding and public’s trust and confidence in the judicial branch.

The 2012 data reveal several major conclusions:

    • The participation of judges in the survey continued to climb, as did their use of the technologies surveyed.
    • The percentage of judges who strongly agree that their own use of the technologies in the survey poses no threat to professional ethics has doubled since the first year of the survey. This applies whether the technologies are used in personal or professional lives.
    • The percentage of judges who strongly agree that courts as institutions can use the technology without compromising ethics has also doubled since 2010.
    • The percentage of judges who strongly agree that new media are necessary for public outreach has doubled since 2010.

However, Professor Jeff Bellin writes that Twitter and Facebook permit the creation of false admissible evidence.

In the 2012 case U.S. v. Jones, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote: “More fundamentally, it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties. . . . This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”

scrubbedtweets

In the Zimmerman trial, we have a Witness who may be discrediting herself through a variety of negative Twitter posts, that while now removed from her main Twitter stream, still exist in the ether and may be read here.  Credibility of a Witness is paramount. It is curious that Ms. Jeantel’s Twitter feed was not reviewed more carefully prior to the trial’s start.

The “scrubbed” Tweets included those with direct references to the trial. The Smoking Gun claims that Jeantel tweeted, in reaction to the revelation that she lied to investigators when she said she missed Martin’s funeral due to a hospitalization, “Jus got home n hear wat was going and I’m angry.” There were also tweets that referred to Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman, Jr., in apparent reaction to controversial tweets he himself posted about the media treatment of Martin and his brother.

How does this effect a case overall?

Wednesday’s testimony wrapped up with defense attorney Don West questioning Jeantel’s credibility. He asked her why she lied multiple times before the trial, and why her testimony did not match up with the transcript of a deposition she gave earlier. Jeantel was asked why she lied about the reason she didn’t attend Trayvon Martin’s funeral. Jeantel is on record first stating she didn’t go because she was in the hospital. She later admitted she didn’t go because she felt guilty, since she was the last person to talk to Martin. She said she didn’t go to the wake out of respect for Martin’s parents.

On March 5, the day it was first revealed Jeantel lied about the reason she didn’t attend Martin’s funeral, the teen tweeted, “Remember who caused the funeral to happened keep it 100% Mr. ass hoe 🙁 damn they p*ssed me off 🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁 and i’m sick too ‘HELL NAW.’”

On her Facebook page, Jeantel uploaded a photo Sunday showing an empty bottle of Hennessy cognac, along with the caption, “Last drink for the week long ass week too.”

For the Courts, questions of broad social media use that may impact the outcome of a trial are complex and evolving. We’ll have more updates and analysis in the upcoming weeks, but for now, remember “What happens on Social Media Stays on Social Media.”

 

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