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Facebook Message Juror Gets Eight-Month Sentence in U.K.

Juror Joanne Fraill
Joanne Fraill, seen here, was sentenced today by the Chief Justice Igor Judge and two other judges. Photographer: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

An English juror was jailed for eight months after she used Facebook Inc.’s social-networking service to contact a defendant in a drug case and discussed the jury’s deliberations.

Joanne Fraill, 40, was sentenced today by the Chief Justice Igor Judge and two other judges. She admitted to contempt of court at a hearing earlier this week.

“Her contact with the acquitted defendant as well as her repeated searches on the Internet constituted flagrant breaches of the orders made by the judge for the proper conduct of the trial,” Judge said.

This is the first time someone has been punished for contempt of court because of contact over the Internet, according to U.K. Solicitor General Edward Garnier, who prosecuted the case.

Judge said the fact that Fraill used the Internet to make contact didn’t change the nature of the offense.

“The jury’s deliberations, and ultimately their verdict, must be based -- and exclusively based -- on the evidence given in court, a principle which applies as much to communication with the Internet as it does to discussions by members of the jury with individuals in and around, and sometimes outside the precincts of the court,” he said.

Suspended Sentence

The defendant Fraill contacted, Jamie Sewart, 34, was also found guilty of contempt and given a suspended sentence of two months. That means she won’t go to jail unless she commits another crime.

Garnier said at a hearing earlier this week that Fraill contacted Sewart on Aug. 3 using Facebook’s instant messaging. While Sewart had already been acquitted, the Manchester, England, jury was still deliberating charges against others.

During the conversation Sewart asked Fraill “what’s happening with the other charge,” Garnier said.

Fraill responded: “No-one budging,” while telling Sewart not to mention the message, saying she feared a mistrial.

Sewart said on the witness stand that she wasn’t sure she was speaking with a juror when she received the messages and denied the contempt of court charge. The morning after she had the conversation with Fraill, she reported it to her lawyer who informed the court.

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