Social media postings can negatively impact court cases: U of S Law Dean

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June 13, 2012 - 3:40pm
File photo of a court house, Apr. 29 2011. Karin Yeske/News Talk Radio
File photo of a court house, Apr. 29 2011. Karin Yeske/News Talk Radio

With an increase in people using Facebook to look for missing family members or to discuss recent murder cases before the Saskatchewan courts, one university professor believes it can have negative repercussions in the court room.

Depending on the information discussed, online musings and conversations could jeopardize a trial and even land someone in jail, said Sanjeev Anand, the dean of law at University of Saskatchewan.

While it is not necessarily illegal to post the information, Anand uses an example of a crown witness stating inflammatory information while blogging about an upcoming trial, to show the problems.

"Defense council may very well have those inconsistent statements that they posted on their website, and are able to use those statements to attack their credibility in trial," he said.

There are also bans preventing media and the public from publishing details heard during bail and preliminary hearings in order to ensure the accused has a fair trial.

Even if it isn't outlined during proceedings or in the criminal code, Anand said a publication ban should automatically extend to social media.

"More and more potential jurors are going to be faced with potentially tainting evidence that they get through social media sources. We have to deal with that in some way."

While the reasons for a publication ban are usually justifiable, the ban itself can seem fruitless.

"I mean what's the real point of a publication ban? Given the impossibility of effectively enforcing publication bans across borders," said Anand, adding international media are under different laws than Canadian media.

Canadians who discuss banned details through social media could get jail time, but Anand said finding and prosecuting those responsible can be a long and difficult process.

"Even if a matter comes to the attention of the authorities, if it's contested how many resources do they want to put into place in prosecuting something like this?"

bmcadam@rawlco.com

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