MO Court Criticizes Prosecutor’s Tweeting During Trial, Upholds Conviction


A Missouri Court of Appeals panel said it was “troubled” and “concerned” that St. Louis’ top prosecutor, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, posted online comments about a sexual assault trial in progress. Yet the court rejected an appeal of forcible rape and sodomy convictions in which the issue was raised, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The judges did not weigh in on whether Joyce's comments on the social media site Twitter, before and during last year’s trial of David Polk, were improper as his attorneys claimed. But it expressed concern that use of tweets “immediately before and during trial greatly magnifies the risk that a jury will be tainted …” Joyce said the ruling recognized that “the basic facts underlying the tweets are part of the public record.” She noted that her last five tweets came after jurors had been warned away from news and social media. “I am confident that continued use of social media by the Circuit Attorney's Office will balance the competing rights of all citizens,” she wrote.

Presiding Judge Lisa Van Amburg said such postings “particularly during the time frame of the trial, can taint the jury and result in reversal of the verdict.” She added, “We doubt that using social media to highlight the evidence against the accused and publicly dramatize the plight of the victim serves any legitimate law enforcement purpose or is necessary to inform the public of the nature and extent of the prosecutor's actions. Likewise, we are concerned that broadcasting that the accused is a 'child rapist' is likely to arouse heightened public condemnation.” The Missouri Public Defender's office called the tweets “prosecutorial misconduct.”

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