The Arkansas Supreme Court today heard oral arguments from Erickson Dimas-Martinez, appealing a death sentence for murder from Benton County. It would have been funny in spots, if not for the fact that it was a case of life and death.
A juror was caught sending out Twitter messages during the trial and during jury deliberations (including a notice to the press a verdict had been reached), despite a judge’s warning about Internet communications, but the judge wouldn’t remove the juror. Another juror also went to sleep, the defense attorney said. Apparently the judge noticed his dozing before defense attorneys did and twice sent him water to try to perk him up.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s new practice of livestreaming arguments — and archiving them — you can watch it all here.
At one point, a justice asked Assistant Attorney General Eileen Harrison, who was defending the conviction, if it would offend her if he started texting while she was making her argument. Chief Justice Jim Hannah suggested that communications from the jury box violated assurances of secret jury deliberations. She said the judge had given leeway for Twittering on limited purposes, such as time issues, but not about the case.
As for the juror’s dozing: “Is it the state’s position you can sleep a little bit, but not too much?” asked Justice Robert Brown. Harrison said the juror said he might have missed a little bit of testimony, “but not much.” She contended the jurors’ actions, including the Twittering of his “feelings,” were not prejudicial to the outcome. She said a juror’s dozing off for a couple of minutes during a long trial shouldn’t undercut the outcome. The defense argued that a man was sentenced to die by a juror unfit to serve.
Decision on this could be interesting. Here’s some more coverage of the hearing today.