FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

Zimmerman Trial Interrupted by Skype Trolls

George Zimmerman's murder trial hit a high-tech snag Wednesday, when a witness appearing remotely via Skype was bombarded by dozens of other Skype users trying to join the call.

Prosecution witness Scott Pleasants had arranged to appear remotely to testify about his experiences with Zimmerman as the defendant's former professor. But his testimony was cut short when another Skype call started ringing in, reports The Inquisitr.

Internet trolls may be responsible for the prank, but courts should take this as a lesson in how to prevent future Skype snafus during trial.

Remote Witnesses

Courts prefer to have their witnesses appear in person, possibly to avoid situations like what happened during Zimmerman's trial.

Judges always prefer witnesses to appear in court in person, in part to protect a defendant's right to confrontation. But it is not uncommon for witnesses who are out of town or infirmed to appear via telephone if the court allows it.

In the Zimmerman trial, it appears that Judge Debra Nelson OK'd Pleasants' appearance via Skype, although the Seminole State College where Pleasants teaches is only 15 minutes from the courthouse, reports Deadspin.

Pleasants, however, was testifying remotely from Colorado, USA Today reports.

Skype + Live TV = Mistake

Part of the reason that Pleasants' testimony was so quickly interrupted was that at least one cable TV channel aired the Skype call live, which allowed Internet trolls on sites like 4chan and possibly Reddit to jump in to disrupt the trial.

As you may recall, 4chan is the same message board that hosted Sarah Palin's family photos and personal information after a hacker gained access to the ex-governor's email account.

Similarly, Internet trolls were hard at work Wednesday, obtaining the witness' fake Skype name "Lou Leon" as well as the prosecutors' Skype username. Multiple trolls interrupted Pleasants' testimony by trying to join the conversation on Skype.

Steps to Prevent Future Trolling

Although part of the Zimmerman trial confusion was caused by pranksters, the court could potentially have prevented the trolling by considering these options:

  1. Have a set protocol for Skype. As many reporters were apt to notice, Skype has a "Do Not Disturb" setting that would have prevented this technical gaffe.
  2. Use a more secure remote conference service. Skype is great because it's free, but there are a number of conferencing apps that are more secure and more professional.
  3. Don't allow remote witness testimony. This is a murder trial and not calling grandma, so there might be issues on appeal if witness testimony is botched due to technical problems. It may be better to just subpoena them to appear in person.

Zimmerman's trial continued with the witness via telephone, but it is uncertain how memorable Pleasants' testimony will be in contrast to the trolling.

Related Resources: