Skip to content

Reporter's tweeted photo of juror leads judge to declare mistrial in murder prosecution

Post categories

  1. Court Access
A Kansas judge declared a mistrial in a murder case after a reporter tweeted a photograph containing the profile of…

A Kansas judge declared a mistrial in a murder case after a reporter tweeted a photograph containing the profile of a juror.

Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Ann Marie Bush live-tweeted the opening day of the trial of accused shooter Austin Tabor last week, including tweets that featured pictures of the judge, attorneys and witnesses. One of the photos, a back view of Tabor and his attorney Julia Spainhour, also includes the profile of one of the members of the jury, a violation of a Kansas Supreme Court rule. The rule prohibits the photography of individual jurors, unless it is unavoidable, in which case close-up photographs of the jurors are prohibited.

Tabor's trial will be rescheduled. In a story written by the Capital-Journal, Publisher Gregg Ireland issued a statement concerning Bush's tweet.

“The Capital-Journal regrets the error and loss of the court’s time,” Ireland told the paper. “We will use this as a training opportunity for our staff members as they strive to bring information to our readers in digital and print media."

However, the photo is still up on Bush's Twitter account, @anniescribe.

Cathy Leonhart, court administrator for the Third District Court in Topeka, said that Judge Mark Braun was one of the first judges in the district to allow live blog updates and tweeting from the courtroom.

"The picture, in this case, is not something that had been discussed, but it's clear from the [Kansas] Supreme Court rules and the judge's order that pictures of the jury were not allowed," she said.

In Kansas, the trial judge can decide to allow cameras in the courtroom. Judge Braun issued an order allowing cameras in the courtroom for Tabor's trial, Leonhart said.

“The reporter had permission from the judge to tweet photos and knew jurors couldn't be included in those photos,” Tomari Quinn, managing editor of the Capital-Journal, wrote in the comment section of the newspaper’s website. “The juror was seated next to a window and, on the reporter's smartphone, wasn't seen against the incoming light. However, in larger view, the juror's profile is visible.”

Though there is no ruling on Twitter in the courtroom, Kansas judges have allowed reporters covering the courts, such as Bush and Wichita Eagle reporter Ron Sylvester, to use Twitter to live-report high-profile court cases.

Use of cameras and live-updating in the courtroom varies by jurisdiction. The U.S. Supreme Court held in 1981 that states may adopt rules permitting cameras and recording equipment in their courts, and since then, all 50 states have done so in some way, according to The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press' First Amendment Handbook. Federal courts do not allow photos or videos to be taken in criminal trials, but some allow cameras in the courtroom for civil trials as part of an experimental pilot project, according to the Reporters Committee's Digital Journalist's Legal Guide.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· Dig.J.Leg.Gd.: Can I tweet from the courtroom?

· Kansas – Open Courts Compendium: XI. Cameras and other technology in the courtroom

· NM&L: Courtroom coverage in 140 characters

· NM&L: With 140 characters at a time, Twitter is presenting new challenges to journalists

· NM&L: More reporters tweeting from courtroom


Stay informed by signing up for our mailing list

Keep up with our work by signing up to receive our monthly newsletter. We'll send you updates about the cases we're doing with journalists, news organizations, and documentary filmmakers working to keep you informed.