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Court Affirms Exclusion of Twitter Evidence in Enticement Case

June 10, 2014

In Wheeler v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s conviction for enticing a child for indecent purposes, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to admit evidence from the alleged victim's Twitter page and in denying the defendant’s motion to strike a prospective juror for cause.

It was alleged that the defendant had a sexual relationship with a girl under the age of 16. On cross examination, the defense attorney asked the girl if she had ever posted anything about the defendant on Twitter. She denied ever tweeting about the defendant. The jury was excused, and defense counsel moved to introduce a screenshot of the girl’s Twitter profile page showing a tweet that stated my heart cries out for you. No matter how much I want you, ill [sic] never have.” The trial court ruled that the defendant had failed to establish the relevance of the tweet and excluded it.

Later in the trial, one of the girl’s friends who knew about the relationship testified that the girl had tweeted about the defendant. Defense counsel asked the court to reconsider admitting the Twitter evidence, and the court declined. In the presence of the jury, the defense attorney read the tweet to the girl’s friend, who confirmed that the girl had tweeted it and that it was about the defendant.

The Court of Appeals held that even if it was error to exclude the Twitter evidence, the content of the tweet was essentially introduced when the defense attorney read it to the witness in front of the jury. Thus, the Court found it highly improbable that the exclusion of the document affected the outcome of the trial.

In addition to challenging the exclusion of the Twitter evidence, the defendant appealed his conviction on the grounds that the trial court erred in denying his motion to strike a prospective juror for cause.

During voir dire, a juror responded affirmatively when the defense attorney asked whether the nature of the allegations would make it impossible to be fair. The prosecutor then asked the juror why. She responded that “I guess I’m just prejudiced to children. And to hear they’ve been abused – I don’t know. My heart just goes out to them.” When asked if she could put this bias aside, she responded “I would like to think I could, but I’m still-seem to always be on the child’s side when I hear these things on TV or wherever.” She also said “I mean, I hope I could be fair, but I’m just prejudiced, I guess toward children.” The defendant moved to strike the juror for cause, the State opposed. Ultimately, the defendant had to use a peremptory strike to exclude this prospective juror.

The Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not err in concluding that the prospective juror “had not formed a fixed or definite opinion regarding Wheeler’s guilt or innocence.” The Court pointed to previous decisions which held that it was not error for a court to seat a juror who expresses doubts about her ability to set aside biases, as long as the juror indicates that she has no unalterable fixed prejudices.

As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s conviction for enticing a child for indecent purposes.

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