Editor’s Choice: Top Five Legal News Stories of the Day

  • tweeting juror, jury, lawyers.com blog, overturn conviction

    Murder conviction reversed because jurors slept and tweeted. The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the death penalty conviction of Erickson Dimas-Martinez because of juror misconduct. The Court decided Dimas-Martinez didn’t get a fair murder trial because one juror kept falling asleep and another juror kept posting Twitter messages during the proceedings.

    Dimas-Martinez was convicted of murdering 17-year-old Derrick Jefferson in 2006. During his trial, a juror fell asleep for as long as five minutes during the technical discussion of some scientific evidence. On appeal, the Supreme Court said the sleeping juror should have been dismissed and replaced. The Court reasoned that the juror had no way of knowing whether he missed something important, and it was unacceptable for a juror to doze off even if he heard the vast majority of the evidence.

    The Court also reversed Dimas-Martinez’s conviction because a juror posted messages to his Twitter account during the trial and the jury deliberations, even after the trial judge questioned him about his misconduct. The Supreme Court said it was inappropriate for a juror to discuss the case in such a public fashion and the tweeting by the juror in this case showed his inability to follow the court’s instructions.

    The Court noted that cell phones not only gave jurors access to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, they also allowed jurors to research aspects of the case on news sites. In light of these problems, the Court asked the Supreme Court committees on civil and criminal practice to consider banning juror cell phones during trials.

    Read more about social media websites and juries.

  • fetchDisappointed couple claims adoption scam. Looking to adopt a baby, a Texas couple was excited when the Family to Family adoption agency matched them with a woman named Angela, who was said to be expecting twin girls. Cindi Faulkner and Dana Howland shelled out $21,950 to pay the agency’s fees and $5,000 to cover the birth mother’s health care and living expenses.

    The couple’s excitement soon turned to concern though, when the birth mother missed her doctor appointments and changed her phone number. The couple began to doubt that Angela was really pregnant. According to the couple, the agency said they believed Angela was pregnant based on ultrasounds she showed them. But an agency employee couldn’t collect pregnancy test results from Angela, and Angela soon disappeared.

    Faulkner and Howland have now sued the adoption agency in a Texas federal court. They say the agency should have done more to verify Angela’s pregnancy before taking their money. They want their $26,950 to be refunded. In addition, they’re demanding the agency pay them three times that amount in punitive damages and also cover their attorney fees.

    Whether you’re looking to adopt or place a child for adoption, an adoption attorney can look out for your interests. Read more about adoptions and how to avoid adoption fraud.

  • Kia car owners win class action lawsuit for faulty brakes. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved a jury verdict that awarded Kia car owners $5.6 million for defective brake systems. There was sufficient evidence to show a poor brake design caused the brake pads and rotors to wear out prematurely in the 1997-2000 Sephia models. Each of the 9,400 car owners in the plaintiff class will receive $600. Kia will also pay their attorneys’ fees.

    The lawsuit was filed pursuant to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act, which is also known as the federal “Lemon Law.” This law allows consumers to recover their legal fees as part of the judgment in winning a defective product lawsuit against a manufacturer.

    Find out more about buying a new or used vehicle. Talk to a consumer law attorney about your vehicle purchase.

  • Indiana newspaper fights to shield online commenter’s identity. Just how anonymous are the clever comments you post online under your fake user name? That’s the question to be considered by the Indiana Court of Appeals when it hears arguments today on whether a newspaper must reveal the identity of an anonymous reader who posted a comment on the newspaper’s web site.

    Someone with the user name “DownWithTheColts” put a comment on the Indianapolis Star’s website in response to the newspaper’s report about missing funds in a Junior Achievement group’s audit. A former Junior Achievement president later sought the identity of “DownWithTheColts” in a lawsuit for defamation. The superior court judge in the case ordered the newspaper to identify the commenter, and the newspaper appealed.

    The newspaper argues that the Internet poster’s identity is protected by Indiana’s journalist shield law. Forty states have laws that give news reporters various degrees of protection against the disclosure of anonymous sources. Indiana’s law is one of the broadest, and The Star argues it gives its digital news director complete protection against having to reveal the source of any information obtained in his work for the newspaper.

    Read more about reporter shield laws and the recent move by newspapers to disallow anonymous comments.

  • Kirsten Dunst gets restraining order against French fanatic.
    Kirsten Dunst, restraining order, spiderman, move star, lawyers.com blog, restraining order

    Kirsten Dunst -- Photo by David Shankbone.

    A California judge awarded actress Kirsten Dunst, Spidey’s girlfriend, a temporary restraining order to stop a 51-year-old French man from stalking her.

    Court papers said the man traveled to Los Angeles at least five times to try to meet Dunst. He’s bombarded her with love letters and he repeatedly waits for her outside her home. Last week he became so bold as to scare Dunst’s mother when he went to her door to try to see the actress. Dunst said Prudhon made her fear for her own safety and that of her family and friends.

    The judge ordered Prudhon to stay at least 100 yards away from Dunst and to stop trying to contact her. Later this month, the judge will decide whether the restraining order should be extended to three years.

    Read more about how to get a restraining order.

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Martha Burns is a news reporter for Lawyers.com

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