Facebook Mistake: Texas Juror Tried to ‘Friend’ Defendant

Here’s a sad little memo to Jonathan Hudson of Arlington, Texas: If you’re on jury duty, and you’re assigned to a case, don’t try to “friend” the defendant on Facebook.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports the 22-year-old Hudson was one of the jurors picked last month to hear a case involving a 2008 auto wreck.  After court recessed for the day on July 18, Hudson admits he tried to “friend” the defendant, Courtney Downing.

“He’s a very, very nice kid,” said Steve Gordon, the attorney assigned to represent him. “I think he was just very naive about the rules of being on a jury.” Gordon said Hudson, who has a job as a pizza delivery man, was regularly updating his Facebook status — “stuff like, ‘Hey, I’m on jury duty. Kinda sucks. Sorta boring.’ And that was it.”

If you’ve ever been on jury duty you’ve doubtless heard instructions not to discuss a case with anyone — not fellow jurors, not family or friends, certainly not strangers who may visit your Facebook page.  In the halls of a courthouse, lawyers and staff treat jurors as if they were radioactive.  Texas just recently added language to judges’ standard instructions to remind jurors that social media are just as off-limits as personal contact with the participants in a case.

Apparently they didn’t sink in with Hudson, who sent defendant Downing that standard message: “Jonathan Hudson wants to be friends with you on Facebook.”  She became concerned and told her lawyer, who told Judge Wade Birdwell. The next morning Hudson was off the case, and last week, having pleaded guilty to four counts of contempt of court, he was sentenced to two days of community service.

“I’ve never seen this before,” prosecutor Chris Ponder said in the Star-Telegram. “But I’m afraid this is a new reality.”

Gordon, Hudson’s attorney, agreed.  “It’s just a different way of viewing yourself and what should be public about you,” he said in a phone interview. “Folks his age don’t think about it unless something bad happens.”

Hudson could have been sentenced to six months in prison for contempt. He will do 16 hours of community service, as determined by the court bailiff, next week.

“The original case resolved itself fairly quickly,” said attorney Gordon. “Unfortunately, it went on for Mr. Hudson.”