Mistrial shows influence of social media in legal system

The mistrial in Fred Prosser's first-degree murder case over a juror's Facebook musings shows the growing influence of social media on the judicial system, according to a law professor.

The mistrial in Fred Prosser’s first-degree murder case over a juror’s Facebook comments shows the growing influence of social media on the judicial system, according to a law professor.

Prosser’s murder trial was halted on Wednesday when the family of Sabrina Patterson, who was killed in 2010, came forward with a posting by a juror on an anti-Prosser Facebook page.

"I think slowly everybody is waking up to the fact that this could be an important angle for everybody involved in the justice process to pursue," said Robert Currie, the director of the Law and Technology Institute at the Schulich Law School at Dalhousie University.

The law professor said the  Prosser mistrial is an illustration of how people can use social media in a way that can come back to haunt them in the future.

"People sometimes are too free with the information that they post on the internet and obviously this is just one of many cases that indicate that it can have consequences for you down the road," he said.

After the 12-member jury was selected on Tuesday, the Patterson family took those names and began to cross-reference them on social media sites.

That is when they found the comments made by Tara Thorne, who was Juror No. 12, on Facebook.

Currie said the legal system will need to start replicating the same research standards used by the Pattersons.

"Social media can help the system to work as it's supposed to do, which is exactly what it did in this case," he said.

Members of the Patterson family said on Wednesday they hope the new jury selection process will involve more scrutiny.

The new jury will be selected on Nov. 20. Prosser will remain in custody.

Prosser, 33, of Shenstone, is charged in connection with the 2010 death of 25-year-old Patterson. The Riverview woman was his ex-girlfriend and mother of his two children.