A British juror who contacted a defendant via Facebook, causing a multimillion-dollar drug trial to collapse, has been sentenced to jail for eight months for contempt of court, according to BBC News. Joanne Fraill, 40 years old, admitted to London's high court that she used Facebook to exchange messages with a defendant, who had been cleared in the case in Manchester last year.
Fraill, 40, revealed highly sensitive details about jury room discussions in her online communications with Jamie Sewart, 34, the Daily Mail reported. Because other defendants were still on trial at the time of the contact between Fraill and Sewart, the judge discharged the jury and the drug case in Manchester collapsed.
Fraill, a mother of three, was the first person in Britain to be convicted of contempt of court involving the Internet, according to Reuters. She said she had contacted Sewart because she empathized with her. When the eight-year jail sentence was announced, she put her head on the table and sobbed uncontrollably.
BBC News said that Fraill would probably spend four months in jail, at which point she would be eligible for early release.
"I hope it will act as a deterrent," said Edward Garnier, the Solicitor General, adding that it had been in the public interest to prosecute to protect jury integrity.
According to the Guardian:
Sentencing Fraill, the judge said in a written ruling: "Her conduct in visiting the internet repeatedly was directly contrary to her oath as a juror, and her contact with the acquitted defendant, as well as her repeated searches on the internet, constituted flagrant breaches of the orders made by the judge for the proper conduct of the trial."
The court heard that Fraill, of Blackley, Manchester, found Sewart on Facebook the day after Sewart had been cleared of conspiracy to supply heroin and amphetamines, according to the Daily Mail.
Fraill sent her message under a pseudonym, and the two women went on to exchange 50 messages in a 36-minute chat about the trial, the co-defendants and the latest position of the jury. Though Sewart told Fraill on Facebook that she would keep quiet about the chat, the next day she confessed to her lawyer and the trial was stopped.
Sewart was also found guilty of contempt and was given a two-month sentence suspended for two years, according to the Guardian.