It was a first in legal history: a juror who contacted a defendant through Facebook, causing the collapse of a 6 million pound (6.8 million euros) drug trial, has been sentenced to eight months in jail.
Joanne Fraill, 40, found herself in the middle of the first case of contempt of court involving the internet, after having exchanged Facebook messages with Jamie Sewart, 34, a defendant who had been acquitted in a drug trial in Manchester, England. Fraill also admitted to an internet search into a co-defendant, Gary Knox, while the jury was still deliberating, also a felony for a juror.
The Solicitor General spoke of the sentence as a “deterrent”, hoping it would act as a warning to other jurors. “It’s important that the integrity of our justice system and the integrity of our jury system is maintained and preserved and seen to be so”, he said.
Fraill’s actions were discovered when Sewart told her lawyer about their Facebook exchange, causing the judge to discharge the jury and call off the trial, leaving a multi-million pound bill to be paid by UK taxpayers.
Although Fraill is said to be “a woman of good character”, and is thought to have contacted Sewart out of empathy, her actions were still considered flagrant breaches of orders, leading to an attempt to pervert the course of justice. She was sentenced to eight months in prison, sobbing uncontrollably as her sentence was announced. Sewart, the defendant, was given a two-month sentence suspended for two years.
This is the first case of its kind in the United Kingdom, but not in the United States, where the use of internet by jurors had already got in the way of several trials. As social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter grow in popularity and usage, the problem will undoubtedly become harder than ever to control.