A juror was held in contempt of court for texting during a trial in violation of standard jury instructions requiring the jury “to pay close attention to all of the witnesses.” On April 16, 2013 Marion County Oregon Judge Dennis Graves sentenced 26 year old Benjamin Kohler to jail for contempt for 2 days for texting while a witness was testifying about the armed robbery defendant.
The Salem Statesman Journal reported that Mr. Kohler was caught texting when the courtroom lights were dimmed to allow a witness to show a video interview with the defendant. With the lights dimmed the glow from Mr. Kohler’s cell phone was apparent so the Judge immediately dismissed all the jurors from the courtroom except Mr. Kohler whom the Judge declared in contempt.
The Court Report included Judge Graves’ courtroom statement to Mr. Kohler that included his message to other jurors to pay attention:
The duty to serve as a juror must be taken very seriously. Every juror has the responsibility to devote his entire attention to the witnesses and evidence being presented. In this case, Mr. Kohler failed to meet his obligations and failed to honor the direction of this court. My hope is that he will use his time in jail to reflect upon his behavior.
The content of Mr. Kohler texting was not made public so it likely irrelevant since the Judge’s admonish was only paying attention not texting about the defendant or facts in the trial. Ultimately Mr. Kohler only spent only one day in jail for contempt, and the defendant was convicted.
Surely we will see more headlines about juror texting given its volume and prevalence, but this case may be different since Mr. Kohler was in contempt for not paying attention to a witness which is extreme. How can Judges know if any other juror is paying attention?