New Electronic World, Same Rules

Mar 25, 2016

The Iowa Supreme Court says a man found guilty of attempted murder and robbery won’t get a new trial, even though inaccurate reporting on a local news website was possibly seen by members of the jury. The case required justices to consider how its harder for jurors to avoid information that may prejudice them during a trial in the age of social media. 

Theodore Gathercole was found guilty in 2014. At the trial, jurors were frequently told to ignore print and broadcast accounts of the case. 

Juries are regularly instructed to avoid media coverage of a trial as this information may prejudice them in their verdict or have inaccuracies. During jury deliberations in Gathercole's trial, a local news website featured an article with erroneous reporting. 

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported Gathercole’s palm print was found at the crime scene, when in fact there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. The print belonged to the victim. 

Gathercole argued since the article could have been read by a juror, he should get a new trial.

The Iowa Supreme Court disagrees, and reasons Gathercole’s guilty verdict stands, in part because jurors were repeatedly told to stay away from news media. Additionally, no juror reported seeing the article which received "some modest social media interaction." 

However, the state’s high court does want future Iowa juries specifically directed to stay away from electronic media during trials as well.