Earlier this week, be began a discussion about a DUI case and an issue that could become more prevalent in future criminal cases: whether or not a Facebook friendship between a judge and defendant is a significant enough link to question the judge’s ability to rule in a case.

Judges in Wisconsin and elsewhere need to remain impartial, and judges who have a social connection to the defendant will often recuse themselves from the case. But what if they are friends only on Facebook?

This issue has made its way into a Pennsylvania courtroom in a high-profile case involving a state representative who was charged with DUI. The judge decided to suppress the evidence against the defendant after ruling that the arresting officers did not have sufficient probable cause to make the DUI stop.

After that decision, it came to light that the judge and the defendant are friends on Facebook. Therefore, the state Attorney General’s Office has filed a motion requesting that the judge recuse himself from the case. They have also asked him to reverse his suppression of evidence.

But according to the defendant’s attorney, the Facebook friendship is the only way in which his client and the judge know one another. And it is quite possible that they did not know they were Facebook friends. The state representative has more than 4,500 friends while the judge is Facebook friends with more than 1,500 people.

The criminal defense attorney said: “They’re not out having drinks together. It’s social media . . . They’re elected officials. It’s common.”

So is the judge’s impartiality truly being called into question, or does the Facebook friendship provide a tenuous excuse for the prosecution to try and change the outcome of the case? Now that nearly everyone is connected through social media, this is a question that is likely to present itself again in the future.

Source: Philly.com, “Judge, defendant Facebook friends; Pa. seeks reversal,” Tony Graham, Nov. 16, 2011

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