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Court denies P.G. Sittenfeld's motion to conduct forensic exam on juror's phone

P.G. Sittenfeld Tuesday July 5 trial
Posted at 12:48 PM, Sep 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-26 17:13:59-04

CINCINNATI — The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied former Cincinnati City Councilman P.G.Sittenfeld's motion to conduct a forensic exam on the social-media and internet activity of a juror's phone.

A female juror, who is known as Juror X, made multiple Facebook posts during the high-profile trial, including during a jury selection and on the night before the verdict was announced.

According to court documents, Juror X made a number of private Facebook posts, only visible to her friends. The only reason the court was made aware of these posts was because one of her friends happened to be an employee of the court.

One of Juror X's posts expressed her opinion that another Juror, known as Juror Y, "shouldn't be on the jury because (she) hates anyone that shares the same profession as our person on trial. Not cool!!!"

Juror X also complained in a post about a third juror, referred to as Juror Z, for too much talking.

According to court documents, none of Juror X's posts contained facts about the case, discussed any of the proceedings, or even named the defendant. One of the major issues brought up is that Juror X's Facebook friends commented on her various posts. One friend identified Sittenfeld by name, however, records show that Juror X hid that comment. Another friend commented on the first day of trial with a link to a newspaper article about the trial. It was later discovered that the link contained a news story that was posted before the trial started.

The court notified all involved parties of Juror X's Facebook activity and discussed the situation. During that same time, the jury reached a verdict. The court considered whether to hear that verdict. That's when Sittenfeld moved for a mistrial, which the court denied.

The jury ended up convicting Sittenfeld on two of the six counts related to public corruption after a monthlong trial. The court accepted the verdict and dismissed most of the jury. The judge held Juror X and Juror Y for questioning.

Federal rules prohibit attorneys from asking about jury deliberations except for whether the deliberations had included reference to any outside information that did not come from within the courtroom during the trial.

According to court documents, Juror X was questioned by Sittenfeld's attorney about the Facebook posts and comments. Juror X stood by her Facebook post and said she believes that Juror Y should not have been on the case because she "hated politicians." Juror X allegedly told Sittenfeld's attorney that she came to this conclusion on her own based on comments Juror Y made during the trial.

Juror X testified that she did not engage in any private messaging with anyone, including any other jurors about the case.

Juror Y was sworn in for questioning and testified that she had no opinions about politicians and elected officials. According to court documents, Sittenfeld's attorney asked Juror Y about Juror X's accusations of hating politicians at least a half-a-dozen times. Juror Y "emphatically" denied the accusations.

Juror Y also testified she did not participate in social media, followed all the court's instructions during the trial, and had no bias against the defendant.

The court later ordered Juror X to preserve any electronic communications relating to "her service as a juror... or any other aspect of this matter," and specified that this can include messaging on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. When Juror X said that she already deleted the Facebook posts and comments, Sittenfeld then moved for a forensic examination of Juror X's devices.

The appeals court denied the motion arguing that Sittenfeld asked the court for an "astonishing invasion of juror privacy." The court then ruled that Sittenfeld couldn't show that Juror X's Facebook activity exposed the jury to any extraneous information likely to affect the verdict.

U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Cole has thus far kept the identity of the jurors involved in the trial a secret from the public and the media, so WCPO has not yet confirmed the content of any social media posts made by jurors.

You can read the full motion below:

Sittenfeld Motion Related to Jury Facebook Posts by WCPO 9 News on Scribd

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