2nd Cir. on Social Media, Jury Instructions, and the Fourth Amendment - U.S. Second Circuit
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2nd Cir. on Social Media, Jury Instructions, and the Fourth Amendment

We've been meaning to cover this case for a few weeks now, but with breaking new developments related to the Central Park Five settlement, and the at long last release of the "drone strike" memo, we were distracted. But now, we can now take a look at one of the most important Second Circuit Fourth Amendment cases to be heard this year.

And the court didn't stop there. It also gave district courts some suggestions on dealing with jurors' use of social media and the importance of jury instructions.

Background

Stavros Ganias' computer files -- both those related to his accounting business and his personal files -- were seized and duplicated, pursuant to a valid warrant, during the course of an investigation of one his clients. At first, investigating officials only searched the files related to his clients. However, the Government retained his personal files, and after two-and-a-half years, searched the preserved personal files. The district court denied his motion to suppress.

That's not all. During trial, one of the jurors made comments about jury duty on his Facebook page. He also became "friends" with a fellow juror during the course of trial.

Ganias was found guilty, but upon learning about the juror's social media posts, he moved for a new trial based on juror misconduct. The district judge examined the juror and found that the juror "was credible" and "participated in the deliberations impartially and in good faith."

Social Media Jury Instructions

Though the Second Circuit found that the district judge's determination of the juror's credibility was not clearly erroneous, and not an abuse of discretion, the court nonetheless felt the need to remind district courts about the importance of jury instructions. Though here, the district judge gave an instruction about the prohibited use of social media before deliberations, there was no such instruction at the beginning of trial.

The Second Circuit recommended that a trial judge use instructions like the ones proposed by the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, at the beginning of trial, at the beginning of deliberations, and even "issue similar reminders throughout the trial before dismissing the jury each day."

Fourth Amendment Violation

The court noted that changing technology made Fourth Amendment analysis increasingly difficult, but reiterated the hallmark of Fourth Amendment analysis is reasonableness. Here, the court held that:

Without some independent basis for its retention of those documents in the interim, the Government clearly violated Ganias's Fourth Amendment rights by retaining the files for a prolonged period of time and then using them in a future criminal investigation.

The court then went on to determine whether the exclusionary rule applied, which it found in this case, it did not. The Second Circuit then reversed the district court's denial of the motion to suppress, vacated the judgment and remanded.

There's no doubt that federal investigators dealing with cases in the Second Circuit will be reevaluating how long they've had computer files as evidence, and they will need to be very careful to stick to the parameters of the warrant. It would be interesting to see if this challenge would go before SCOTUS, but we don't think that will happen in this case.

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