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Florida Supreme Court Asked to Weigh in on Judicial Facebook Friends

Posted by on in Florida Criminal Law
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Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals has recently asked the Florida Supreme Court to answer the following as a question of great public importance:

Where the presiding judge in a criminal case has accepted the prosecutor assigned to the case as a Facebook “friend,”would a reasonably prudent person fear that he could not get a fair and impartial trial, so that the defendant’s motion for disqualification should be granted?

Although the trial judge originally refused to disqualify themselves from presiding over a case that was being prosecuted by a Facebook “friend” upon request of the defendant's criminal defense lawyer, the Fourth District Court of Appeals previously stated on September 5, 2012... “ where the presiding judge in a criminal case has accepted the prosecutor assigned to the case as a Facebook “friend”, a reasonably prudent defendant would fear that he or she could not receive a fair or impartial trial, so that the defendant’s motion for disqualification should be granted”. Subsequent to that ruling , the State sought a rehearing which was denied on January 16, 2013.

Despite having already answered the question in favor of requiring disqualification as well as refusing to rehear the case, the appellate court recognized that the ability to participate in social media is of such great importance that it decided to ask the state’s Supreme Court to weigh in on the question for a more definitive and binding precedent.

The appellate court agreed that judges must accept limitations on personal freedom and, in reference to their colleagues on the bench,  stated they “do not have the unfettered social freedom of teenagers”.

Since the appearance of impartiality requires avoiding relationships that compromise that appearance and recognizing that Facebook posts are eternal and possibly inappropriate , the court agreed that disqualification was required.

For a complete reading of the court’s opinion click here.

Craig C. DeThomasis is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Gainesville, Florida, and has been an adjunct professor/lecturer at the University of Florida College of Law since 1990. He has been representing individuals accused of crime since 1983.