A spurned man was recently on trial for posting threats against his ex on FACEBOOK. His defense? The “threats” were just a joke, and she should have known it. To support this claim, he pointed to certain emoticons (a facial glyph, used especially in e-mail and online posts, indicating an emotion or attitude) that accompanied the “threats”. For example, there was one of a face with a tongue sticking out. This emoticon meant the “threats” were in jest, he claimed.
The prosecutor wanted the threatening posts “read” to the jury, but the man’s lawyer – wisely – wanted to bar any open court “reading” of the posts. He wanted the jury to only SEE the posts so they could take into account emoticons. The man’s lawyer argued that it would be unfair to merely read in court the posts because the accompanying emoticons could not be “read” aloud. The jury would hear the “threat” without “hearing” the accompanying (and mitigating) emoticon. The posts had to be SHOWN and only SHOWN to the jury!
The lawyer had a point. Certain forms of writing — like repeated question marks (“???”), distorted words (like “soooo”) and emoticons — can’t be reliably or adequately conveyed orally. To do so distorts the meaning.
How did the judge rule? The Judge allowed the posts to be read in open court, but also instructed the jury that the messages had not been communicated that way to the ex. The ex, like everyone else in the FACEBOOK world, would have SEEN the postings with the accompanying emoticons. “The jury should read them,” the judge said. “They are meant to be read. The jury should note the emoticons.”
Think of how an emoticon can change the meaning of a sentence. “I’m going to kill you!” followed by a wink, tongue out, or a smiley is not same message as a bare “I’m going to kill you”.
Fellow lawyers, if you have a case where online postings or emails or texts are coming into evidence, and they were accompanied by emoticons, and the emoticons change the tenor, tone, or the meaning of the post, fight like hell to have the post SHOWN to the jury on a big screen, or at least passed onto the jury at the same time or shortly after they are read aloud in court.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!
Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com Central and Syracuse NY Personal Injury Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.