Friday, February 09, 2018

LinkedIn evidence leads Sixth Circuit to remand case for Remmer hearing

In United States v. Talman Harris, social media evidence led the Sixth Circuit to remand a case for a hearing on extraneous influence on a juror.  While on trial for wire fraud, Mr. Harris received a notification that someone viewed his LinkedIn profile.  After the jury found him guilty, Mr. Harris logged in and discovered that a local college student had viewed his profile.  Further research revealed that this student was a juror’s live-in girlfriend.  Mr. Harris had no connection to the student, and his trial had not received publicity.

This evidence suggested that the juror violated the court’s instructions by discussing the trial with his girlfriend.  Additionally, the exclusion of certain evidence made this discovery especially problematic.  A licensing organization had investigated Mr. Harris and revoked his license.  The district court had excluded this evidence from the trial.  However, searching Mr. Harris’s name on Google brought up the investigation as one of the top results.  Mr. Harris’s LinkedIn profile was likewise among the top results.

Based on this evidence, Mr. Harris argued that the student had Googled his name and potentially shared prejudicial information with the juror.  Mr. Harris moved for a Remmer hearing to determine whether the juror had been exposed to the extraneous prejudicial information.  In the alternative, Mr. Harris sought permission to interview the juror and his girlfriend.

The district court denied both requests.  The court concluded that in “‘this age of the internet,’” the most likely scenario was that the juror’s girlfriend learned that he was seated as a juror, visited the court’s website, found the trial in progress, and continued her research by visiting LinkedIn, all without any communications with her boyfriend.

The Sixth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded for a Remmer hearing.  The court noted that Mr. Harris had presented a colorable claim of extraneous influence.  Thus, although the district court had discretion in how to investigate the claim, it had abused its discretion by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing or allow Mr. Harris to investigate further. 

Opinion available here.

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