Tulsa Co. Judge: Technology Threatens Fairness Of Trials

Tuesday, September 29th 2009, 4:54 pm
By: News On 6

By Lori Fullbright, The News On 6

TULSA COUNTY, OK -- When a person is on trial, they count on the jury to be fair when reaching a verdict. But the Internet and texting are making that tougher than ever.

When Marquis Bullock went on trial for murdering Cori Baker recently, News On 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright was on jury duty and got called to be in that jury pool. Fullbright was dismissed since she had covered the case for two years. However, she found the judge's jury warning interesting. The judge not only asked the jury to avoid news coverage, but also to not Google the case online.

9/16/2009  Related Story: Tulsa County Jury Convicts Marquis Bullock

When 12 people take time away from their jobs and families to judge someone else's life, they promise to be fair and to not consider any information except what they hear in the courtroom, to decide guilt or innocence. But, the Internet, texting, blogs and Facebook make tons of information accessible, so judges worry about jurors keeping that promise.

"I tell all the jurors you have to decide the case on what you hear in the courtroom because so much of that would be inadmissible and it's not proven and not true sometimes," said District Judge Clancy Smith, Tulsa County.

Jurors can learn things that have no bearing on the case, like if the person has filed for bankruptcy or been sued or has previous charges -- things that could sway their thinking during deliberations.

"The fear is you will convict him because of his past, not because of what happened here and so, these are the main reasons you can't let them look at something not screened by a judge," said District Judge Clancy Smith.

Judge Smith doesn't allow anyone to text while in her courtroom.

Witnesses who are waiting aren't allowed to know what other witnesses are testifying to and if someone is telling them, it violates the process and can skew the case.

She also confiscates jurors' cell phones when they go deliberate, so they don't search the Internet for additional information.

"Most of the jurors want to do what's fair, want it to be a fair thing, a fair playing field. They just don't think what they're doing is going to affect them and it is. They're going to learn something that might affect their verdict, but they think they can be fair no matter what," said District Judge Clancy Smith.

After Marquis Bullock was found guilty of first degree murder in Cori Baker's death, he wrote Lori Fullbright a letter from jail, talking about the jury selection process -- how's it's hard to know who you can trust.

Bullock also told Lori Fullbright he felt he was convicted without any supporting evidence and plans to appeal.