Jurors’ Social Media Accounts Under Scrutiny in Boston Marathon Bombing Appeal

Journalists waiting outside the federal courthouse in Boston on the first day of the death penalty trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in March 2015.

On the day of...

On the day of sentencing, the defense team’s brief said, Juror 138 said on Twitter that Mr. Tsarnaev was “scum” and “trash,” and that he belonged in a “dungeon where he will be forgotten about until his time comes.” The former juror declined a request for comment from The Times.

Thursday’s arguments represent the first step in a process that will probably last for years. The arguments are constrained to the trial record, and must establish that the judge or prosecutors erred in some way that is significant enough to merit a reversal, a high bar since judges are typically granted broad discretion.

Discussions of the legal questions returned again and again to social media, and the increasing difficulty of sealing off jurors from prejudicial information.

Daniel Habib, a lawyer for Mr. Tsarnaev, said the screening rules were from an era before social media, and were even more necessary now, when potential jurors are immersed in “all manner of opinion and fact and suggestion and innuendo about this case.”

“It wasn’t just that they were reading The Boston Globe,” Mr. Habib said. “They were hearing from their family and their friends and complete strangers on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram, and any other social media they participated in, thoughts about the case and beliefs about Tsarnaev.”

Sources of pretrial publicity, he said, “have multiplied, and are less checked.”

Prosecutors have pushed back against the defense arguments, saying that Juror 138 “never endorsed” the “flippant and joking remarks” left by his friends on Facebook, and that Juror 286 may have failed to disclose her Twitter posts because she misunderstood the instruction.

George Vien, a former federal prosecutor who now works at the law firm Donnelly, Conroy & Gelhaar, said he did not believe that the evidence of prejudice was strong.

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