Category Archives: Evidence

Plaintiff failed to show that Facebook pics supported hostile workplace claim

Jabbar v. Travel Services, Inc., 2010 WL 3563112, (D.Puerto Rico September 10, 2010)

Plaintiff sued her former employer for racial discrimination. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, finding there was not enough evidence to go to trial on plaintiff’s claim. Plaintiff asked the court to reconsider the judgment against her. The court held its ground.

One of the assertions that plaintiff made was that someone from work had posted a discriminatory comment on a Facebook photo taken at a company outing.

The court found there was no evidence apart from plaintiff’s own deposition testimony that the company’s official policy was to upload photos to Facebook. And there was no evidence as to who owned the Facebook account in question.

So the court found no basis to overturn its earlier determination that plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination.

Juror internet research again causes criminal conviction to be overturned

Child molester’s conviction vacated because juror read articles about victim’s alleged injuries.

Lockwood v. State, 2010 WL 3529416 (Nev., September 3, 2010)

Last week it was manslaughter. This week it’s child molestation.

Defendant was convicted on multiple counts of the heinous crime of sexual assault of a child under the age of sixteen. He moved for a new trial when he learned that the jury foreperson did some internet research on the nature of the injuries suffered by the victim. The trial court denied the motion for a new trial, but the Nevada supreme court overturned the conviction on the basis of the juror misconduct.

To be successful on a motion for new trial, the defendant had to show (1) the occurrence of juror misconduct, and (2) that the misconduct was prejudicial.

The court held that although independent research by a juror generally would not give rise to the presumption of prejudice, in this case, the independent research did rise to that level.

The jury foreperson consulted eight to ten internet articles on the nature of the victim’s injuries over the course of forty-five minutes and shared her research with the rest of the jury during deliberations. The court held that by conducting her own research and relaying that information to the rest of the jury, the foreperson engaged in misconduct that was prejudicial.

The information related directly to whether it was possible that the victim was assaulted. Moreover, by sharing that information, the foreperson might have bolstered the credibility of both the victim and the State’s expert witness and thereby infected the deliberations such that there was a “reasonable probability that the information affected the verdict.”

Robbery conviction overturned because prosecutor played YouTube video during closing argument

Miller v. State, 2009 WL 3517627 (Ind. App. October 30, 2009)

Appellant Miller and his dad robbed Wedge’s Liquor Store in Logansport, Indiana back in November 2007. During the robbery Miller pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at the clerk’s face.

Get your grubby paws off my YouTube image

During closing argument at trial, the prosecutor showed the jury a video from YouTube to illustrate “how easy it was to conceal a weapon inside clothing.” The video was not admitted as evidence but was used merely as a demonstrative aid. The jury convicted Miller and the court sentenced him to 18 years in prison.

Miller appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court made a mistake in letting the jury see the YouTube video. The court agreed with Miller and reversed.

The court noted that experiments and demonstrations may be permitted during trial if they will aid the court and jury. But in this case the court of appeals found that the YouTube video showing how weapons could be concealed could not possibly provide such aid. The state conceded in its appeallate brief that Miller’s defense theory was mistaken identity. So “the whole issue about the ability to hide weapons under clothing was ultimately unimportant.”

Moreover, before showing the video to the jury, the prosecutor said that the video “[had] nothing to do with this case.” The court of appeals agreed with Miller’s argument that the video “[brought] alive the passions of the jury . . . and suggested Miller was not only the robber but that he also . . . intended to . . . cause injury or death.” The video “was irrelevant, prejudical, and confused issues. . . .”

YouTube evidence picture courtesy Flickr user PIAZZA del POPOLO under this Creative Commons license.

Web photos inadmissible as evidence in case against deer hunter

State v. Ness, — N.W.2d —-, 2009 WL 3296676 (N.D. Oct. 15, 2009)

Another day, another state supreme court decision about whether web-found evidence is admissible. Yesterday our discussion was about a MySpace posting in a murder trial. (The evidence in that case was admissible.) Today it’s about pictures from the Internet in a case against a hunter accused of failing to tag the deer he had shot. (The evidence in this case was inadmissible.)

Defendant Ness was charged with violating a proclamation of the governor of North Dakota (which has the force of law) requiring hunters to “immediately” place a state-issued tag on all deer killed. At trial, his attorney cross examined the game warden who issued the citation to Ness while Ness was cutting the deer up in his front yard. In connection with this cross examination, Ness’s lawyer tried to introduce photos from the web of other hunters, to shed light on what the word “immediately” meant.

The trial court excluded the photos of other hunters. Ness was found guilty and sought review with the North Dakota Supreme Court. On appeal, the court agreed that the photos were properly excluded.

Ness argued that keeping the photos away from the jury during the game warden’s cross examination violated his constitutional right to confront his accuser. The Supreme Court rejected that argument, however, finding that the pictures of other hunters with other animals at other times were irrelevant to the present matter and would not help the jury determine whether the law was broken in this case.

Deer photo courtesy Flickr user law_keven under this Creative Commons license.

MySpace posting was not improper character evidence at murder trial

Clark v. State, No. 43S00-0810-CR-575 (Ind. October 15, 2009). [Download the opinion]

Defendant Clark killed his girlfriend’s two-year-old daughter. At his murder trial, the prosecution introduced the following post Clark had made to his MySpace page:

Society labels me as an outlaw and criminal and sees more and more everyday how many of the people, while growing up, and those who judge me, are dishonest and dishonorable. Note, in one aspect I’m glad to say I have helped you people in my past who have done something and achieved on the other hand, I’m sad to see so many people who have nowhere. to those people I say, if I can do it and get away. Bullshit. And with all my obstacles, why the fuck can’t you.

Clark was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He sought review with the Indiana Supreme Court. On appeal, the court affirmed the conviction.

One of the arguments Clark raised on appeal was that the trial court committed error when it allowed the jury to consider the MySpace posting. He claimed that it was improper character evidence under Indiana Rule of Evidence 404(b) which provides in relevant part:

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.

The Supreme Court held that Rule 404(b) did not apply because “[i]t was Clark’s words and not his deeds that were at issue.” The posting was “solely evidence of [Clark's] own statements, not of prior criminal acts.”

Moreover, Clark had made an issue of his character when he testified in his own defense. One theme of his testimony was that he had acted recklessly, and that had he intended to kill the victim he would have done more to conceal the crime. The court held that the bravado exhibited in the MySpace posting (in conjunction with a statement Clark had made to a detective upon his arrest, namely, “I will fucking kick your ass. I will send the Hell’s Angels to kill you. Fuck it. It’s only a C felony. I can beat this.”) was probative in that it countered his argument of “mere” recklessness.

MySpace drinkin’ photos causing real life problems again

Last time it was probation being revoked. This time it’s children being taken away. A recent Texas case shows how irresponsible social media use can have some unpleasant consequences.

Mann v. Department of Family and Protective Services, 2009 WL 2961396 (Tex. App. September 17, 2009)

Appellant had her baby taken away by state protective services. She sought review with the court claiming, among other things, that the state had presented “no evidence that [Appellant] engaged in endangering conduct.”

Woo hoo

The court found otherwise, agreeing with the lower court that Appellant had endangered the child. Among the evidence it considered were photos from Appellant’s MySpace account with the following captions, unedited to preserve their original ebullience:

 

  • At Ashley House Dranking it Up
  • Me Helping Ashley Stand Up, Were Both Drunk
  • Me Dancing my ass off, I can dance when I drunk
  • Yall see how much we Dranked plus the one’s that droped on the floor
  • We were all fucked up

Oh, by the way, Appellant was under 21.

The court held that “[t]his evidence could lead a reasonable factfinder to firmly believe that appellant engaged in underage drinking on these two occasions, despite knowing that she was under the legal drinking age.”

Photo courtesy Flickr user Mercury98 under this Creative Commons license.

Conviction for sending intimidating MySpace message overturned

Marshall v. State, 2009 WL 2243467 (Ind. App. July 28, 2009)

Gotta love the facts of this case from my home state of Indiana.

Marshall and Goodman traded cars with one another, but that deal went sour. Marshall then got into an altercation with Goodman’s mother (named Lee) and Marshall was arrested. She was also ordered to have no contact with either Goodman or Lee. Three days after her arrest, Marshall sent the following (redacted) private message through MySpace to Goodman:

Dont think that you are gonna get away from this s***. you can’t hide forever and one of these days when you are out and about … you know thy aint going to pin nothing on me. Cant prove s***. aint gonna and I am just waiting for that day. You want a war? ? ? Your gonna get it now f*****. I don’t know YET who told you the s*** in my blogs or was feedin you info on me but you can rest assured that I am gonna f*** them uptoo when I found out. And I WILL find out. The s*** aint done and you better know that. Its only a matter of time.

The b**** you know I can be.

(Ed. note: stay classy, Ms. Marshall!)

Based on this message, Marshall was convicted of felony intimidation against Lee. The prosecution had argued that Marshall committed this crime by communicating a threat to knowingly injure Lee, with the intent that Lee be placed in fear of retaliation for calling the police.

Marshall sought review of her conviction with the Indiana Court of Appeals. On appeal, the court reversed the conviction.

The court held that the prosecution failed to prove its allegations of intimidation against Lee, because the message was sent to Goodman’s ( and not Lee’s) MySpace account. Even though an intimidating communication may be indirect, the state had to prove that Marshall must have known or had reason to know that her communication would reach Lee. In this case, there was no such proof.

The MySpace message was not addressed to Lee, nor was she mentioned by name. Accordingly, there was no evidence that Marshall knew or had reason to know that Goodman would show the message to his mother.

Photo courtesy Flickr user subewl under this Creative Commons license.

Slamming Wikipedia’s reliability not enough in immigration case

Badasa v. Mukasey, — F.3d —, 2008 WL 3981817 (8th Cir. Aug. 29, 2008)

Illegal alien Badasa sought asylum in the United States. To establish her identity, she submitted to the Immigration Judge a “laissez-passer” issued by the Ethiopian government. Opposing the application for asylum, the Department of Homeland Security submitted a number of items, including a Wikipedia article, to show that a laissez-passer is merely a document issued for a one-time purpose based on information provided by the applicant. The Immigration Judge was not convinced that the laissez-passer established Badasa’s identity, and denied the application for asylum.

Badasa appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which agreed that asylum should be denied. It soundly criticized Wikipedia’s reliability to establish the meaning of the document at issue, but found there was enough other evidence to support the Immigration Judge’s conclusion that Badasa had failed to establish her identity. But the Board of Immigration Appeals failed to discuss this other evidence, therefore running afoul of the administrative law textbook case of SEC v. Chenery, 318 U.S. 80 (1943).

So the Eighth Circuit sent the case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals to make additional findings. The court observed that the Board of Immigration Appeals found that “Badasa was not prejudiced by the [Immigration Judge's] reliance on Wikipedia, but [the Board of Immigration Appeals] made no independent determination that Badasa failed to establish her identity.” In short, the Board of Immigration Appeals had focused only on why the use of Wikipedia made the case less “solid,” and did not address the lack of solidity found in any of the other evidence connected with the laissez-passer used to establish identity.

Company’s own website provided evidence of claimed trademark’s genericness

Boston Duck Tours LP v. Super Duck Tours LLC, —F.3d—, 2008 WL 2444480 (1st Cir. June 18, 2008)

Boston Duck Tours has been providing tours of Boston in amphibian vehicles (called “ducks” but spelled DUKWs) since 1993. After a competitor moved into town in 2007 calling itself Super Duck Tours, Boston Duck Tours filed suit for trademark infringement. The district court enjoined Super Duck from using its mark and logo. Super Duck sought review with the First Circuit Court of Appeals. On appeal, the court reversed.

It held that the lower court erred in finding that the term “duck tour” was not a generic term outside the protection of trademark law. In reaching this decision, the appellate court reviewed evidence of Boston Duck’s own use of the term in a generic sense, including on its website. For example, a sentence read, “[c]ontrary to local belief, the unique idea of a [d]uck [t]our did not originate in Boston.”

The case should serve as a warning to brand owners to ensure (apart from not selecting a generic term in the first place) that they use their marks in a manner that avoids “genericide”.

Emails held sufficient to amend employment contracts in NY

[Brian Beckham is a contributor to Internet Cases and can be contacted at brian.beckham [at] gmail dot com.]

The New York Court of Appeals, 1st Division recently upheld a lower court ruling that a series of “signed” emails is a sufficient writing to modify a contract.

Plaintiff Stevens sold his business (L-S) to Defendant Publicis under two contracts: a stock-purchase agreement including an initial up-front payment, and an employment contract whereby Plaintiff would continue as Chairman and CEO of the new company (PDNY) for three years with additional contingent fees based on earnings. Shortly after the acquisition, problems arose, including loss of a major client and failure to meet revenue and profit targets. Approximately halfway into the three-year term, Plaintiff was removed as CEO and presented 3 options for continued employment. The then-acting CEO of PDNY (Bloom) exchanged a series of emails with Plaintiff. The culmination of this exchange was an email from Bloom on behalf of PDNY describing his understanding of the parties’ terms regarding Plaintiff’s new role at PDNY that Plaintiff’s time would be allocated 70% towards new business development, 20% in maintaining former L-S clients, and 10% devoted to management/operations of PDNY.

Plaintiff responded the next day by email stating: “…I want to thank you again for helping me…That being said, I accept your proposal with total enthusiasm and excitement…” Bloom for PDNY replied the same day: “I am thrilled with your decision…all of us will continue to work in the spirit of partnership to achieve our mutual goal.”

The bottom of each email had the typed name of the sender.

The lower court held, and the Court of Appeals sustained that the parties had agreed in writing (by their emails) to modify Plaintiff’s duties under his employment contract, specifically because both sides expressed their unqualified acceptance of the modification to the contract. (Bloom’s email set forth the terms of the proposed contractual modification, Plaintiff accepted those terms by his email, and Bloom’s reply memorialized that acceptance). Plaintiff also confirmed his acceptance of the modified contract terms in another email to PDNY’s COO.

The Court of Appeals held that Plaintiff’s (and Bloom’s) emails “constitute ‘signed writings’ within the meaning of the statute of frauds, since plaintiff’s name at the end of his e-mail signified his intent to authenticate the contents.” Moreover, the signed writings (the emails) satisfied a requirement of the original employment contract that any modifications must be signed by all parties, i.e., the several emails served as counter-signatures. The same result may not have been reached in a different state, but at least in NY, “signed” emails can be valid for contract purposes.

Case is: Stevens v. Publicis, S.A., 602716/03.