JULY 2016


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New Media & the Courts Resources


Should Pokémon Go stop in the courtroom?

Nowadays you can’t walk around town without seeing someone with their phone playing Pokémon Go. Although the app has its benefits, like getting exercise and sparking conversation among strangers, it has caused some unfortunate circumstances. A young girl found a dead body in a river in Wyoming. Two players fell off a bluff in California. Some even tried to capture characters at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.  Users are opening the app in some inappropriate places. This made us wonder if the app has impacted your court. In a recent Twitter poll, we asked our followers if they have had issues with Pokémon Go in the courtroom.  Overall, most (73%) reported no issues, but 27% said they have had to ask people to stop using the app. Lorrie Thompson, Public Information Officer for the Washington Courts, told NCSC that the Washington Supreme Court’s Law Library has actually embraced the craze. “Our library posted a little note outside their door that they are a PokeStop,” she admitted.

Facebook Live vs. Privacy Law

The Facebook Live video that was at the scene of the controversial shooting by a Minnesota police officer has been classified as an act of “citizen journalism.” In an article in the Columbia Journalism Review, the real-time videos are “triggering a widespread sense that the use of livestreaming video on massive social platforms represent a critical moment in the way people make and share news.” But this raises questions about how the rise of the streaming mobile video will complicate the law of privacy and how courts and lawmakers will respond. Media scholars Chip Stewart and Jeremy Littau conclude that under current law “users of these services are unlikely in most circumstances to face any civil or criminal liability…but mobile streaming video could become a catalyst for changes to privacy law and policy.” Under the First Amendment, state and federal courts have recognized strong protections for recording in public places, especially ones involving police conduct and high levels of newsworthiness.

New Mexico Supreme Court issues warning to judges about using social media

The New Mexico Supreme Court has asked judges to exercise caution when using social media. An opinion filed earlier this month reversed the murder and kidnapping convictions of a man charged in the 2010 death of an Albuquerque man and called for a retrial, finding that a forensic analyst’s testimony over Skype violated the defendant’s right to “confront an adverse witness.” In the court’s ruling, Chief Justice Charles Daniels reprimanded former judge Samuel Winder for Facebook posts he made during the trial on his re-election campaign site. Judge Daniels wrote: “Members of the judiciary must at all times remain conscious of their ethical obligations…While we make no bright-line ban prohibiting judicial use of social media, we caution that ‘friending,’ online postings and other activity can easily be misconstrued and create and appearance of impropriety.”

Massachusetts teen to face manslaughter over texts urging boyfriend to commit suicide

The highest court in Massachusetts has ruled that a teenage girl must face manslaughter charges over the 2014 death of her boyfriend who killed himself after she sent text messages urging him to take his life. In one text exchange, Michelle Carter, now 18, told her boyfriend Carter Roy, “If u don’t do it now you’re never gonna do it.” In another, she helped him figure out the method for committing suicide, using a portable generator. The state high court concluded there was enough evidence to suggest her behavior was reckless enough to charge her with involuntary manslaughter.

Court: Text messages can form a binding contract

The Massachusetts Land Court has ruled that a string of text messages can form a binding contract. In the case St. John’s Holding, LLC vs. Two Electronics, LLC, the court addressed the question about whether a text message can constitute a writing sufficient under the Statute of Frauds to create an enforceable contract. The transaction between the two companies included “four drafts of a letter of intent from Buyer and Seller for purchase of a piece of property.” But none of the drafts were signed by the Buyer. Instead, the Seller’s agent texted the Buyer’s agent asking him to sign the letter and provide a deposit. The two agents met later to accept the letter and deposit.  The court concluded that the “text message from the Seller’s agent was a writing that, read in the context of the email exchanges between the parties, contained sufficient terms to state a binding contract between the Seller and Buyer.”

Jailer's social media posts under investigation

The Polk County (Iowa) Sheriff's Office is investigating comments made on Facebook by a detention officer who works at the jail. The investigation follows a Facebook exchange between officer Alan Blaylock, 20, and Facebook user Chelsea Vargas. Vargas posted a portion of the conversation on Facebook. Blaylock told Vargas not to call police if she needs assistance. He also made racial and abusive comments about the police force. The sherrif's office responded with a tweet saying officials were looking into the comments by an employee and thanked the public for bringing the issue to their attention.

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Please e-mail Deirdre Roesch.