The case of State of Arizona v. Rojas (Ariz. App. 2019) Case No. 2 CA-CR 2018-0271 illustrates the extreme problems that can be caused when someone starts recording a trial and a jury (with permission or surreptitiously). The Rojas case involved alleged sexual conduct with a five-year-old girl, daycare, and a "court observer" that had obtained permission to "record video of the proceedings on his tablet computer for posting on his social media page" over the defendant's objections.

Two days after the permission was granted someone contacted one of the jurors (initial contact juror) with information that there was a video concerning the trial and stating an opinion about the level of disgust of the subject matter of the trial. The jurors stated that they didn't believe their objectivity would be compromised, but expressed significant apprehension about being publicly discovered to serve on the jury.  Not mentioned was whether they feared public denouncement upon rendering a not-guilty verdict, or being harmed by associates of the defendant upon rendering a guilty verdict.

The "initial contact juror" was dismissed and the court went ahead with the trial over defense counsel's objection. The jury convicted Rojas of one count of sexual conduct with a minor under twelve years old. Rojas counsel then filed a motion for a new trial under Rule 24.1, Ariz. R. Crim. P., based upon the assertion that the jurors' awareness that recognizable images of jurors had been publicized prejudiced him." The motion for new trial was granted.  The state of Arizona appealed, but lost at the Appeals court level the case upon which this short article was based.

A decision by the trial court to declare a mistrial before the verdict was rendered could have had the effect of cutting short the verdict and this appeal.  The defense was in essence given an advance look at what was sure to become a "dry run" of the state's trial tactics in what was surely to have been declared a mistrial. The learning take-away is completely valuable as it illustrates what can go wrong when the courtroom, and especially the jury, is not completely controlled.

Any visitor in the jury room can pass on the identity of a juror, simply from overhearing it as the jurors report. Anyone, especially a fellow juror, is in a position to poison the case simply by sending an electronic communication to a juror whose name is overheard talking to others. It also illustrates the pressure on the court not to waste time and re-do a case that is under way, and the potential for any outsider to use a threat mechanism to exact a different verdict from a juror based simply upon publishing or refraining from publishing a juror's name after the trial.

The potential for manipulation of a trial by confederate of the defendant or the prosecution is all too possible. If you learn of a judge being extremely strict in controlling the courtroom, repeatedly  admonishing the jury not to communicate about a case, and re-questioning a jury about the court's instructions, this case illustrates justification for severe courtroom controls.