The St. Louis Post recently drew attention to a St. Louis prosecutor who has been engaging in tweeting and Facebook posting about her office’s cases.
On her Twitter page, Joyce juxtaposes case information with shout-outs to her husband and cheers and jeers on Notre Dame game days. After reaching the 1,000-follower mark, she tweeted about a cupcake giveaway. She praises police and neighborhood groups who show up to court. “It is very powerful in informing and engaging citizens to get involved in public safety issues in their community,” she explained. Her message to criminals is pointed: Shape up or ship out. “Stanley Bailey assaulted an 80 yr old lady & stole her purse,” she tweeted on Oct. 25. “He now has 20 yrs to ask himself why he’s a jerk.” In another: “Don’t threaten police with a weapon, unless you want to be shot AND charged with a felony (unlawful use of a weapon), like Carl Evans was today.” The Facebook page, a collaboration of Joyce and her staff, has narratives of closed cases, crime-fighting tips and profiles of police and court players. Those narratives are often dramatic, with talk of “bad guys” and the innocent victims they prey upon. In one poignant exchange, she explained to the family of a man killed in a traffic crash why she could not file a manslaughter charge. She said she uses both sites to correct or clarify news media reports, and draw attention to what is not covered. Asked about online missteps, Joyce chuckled and pointed to one post in particular: “When I admitted to being a fan of the Spice Girls.”
The St. Louis Post continues to point out some of the potential ethical problems of engaging in this sort of communication:
Michael Downey, a lawyer specializing in ethics at the Armstrong Teasdale firm in St. Louis, said everyone should beware of the basic hazards of social media: It’s easy to be impulsive, the message reaches a broad audience and the words linger to haunt the writer later. Beyond that, Downey emphasized, lawyers — especially prosecutors — have a special obligation not to publish something that might influence a jury and deprive a defendant of a fair verdict. “It’s a huge potential problem,” he said, and one that pops up increasingly. Ethics violations could lead to reprimand, suspension, or in more serious cases, disbarment.
You can read Jennifer Joyce’s twitter feed here.