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Facebook comments ‘innocuous,’ judge said

Trial lawyers trying to figure out which Facebook comments are harmless and which can skew a jury may get some help from a March 25 decision by the Virginia Court of Appeals.

Rene Martinez Romero’s trial was tough for anyone to sit through. The defendant was accused of raping his mentally disabled teenage daughter, who had little understanding of how she had become pregnant.

Nearing the end of jury service, a juror posted this Facebook message: “Anyone ever served Jury Duty? I’m wrapping up a criminal trial, hopefully tomorrow (Day 5)! Oh What Joy!!”

Someone with the same last name replied: “Youre’ doing a great job, D. It’s a hard one. I wouldn’t have been as composed as you.”

Romero’s lawyer filed a post-trial motion requesting an evidentiary hearing, although the lawyer acknowledged there was no reason to believe the commenter knew something about the case. The fact that the lawyer had to speculate about what the comment might mean was the reason to have a hearing, the lawyer argued.

Prince William County Circuit Judge Craig D. Johnston said the Facebook comments were “innocuous” and did not suggest any misconduct, according to the appellate court’s unpublished opinion affirming Romero’s rape conviction.

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