Legal experts say, given Jamaica’s size, the widespread use of Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger could taint a potential jury pool and deny accused persons their constitutional right to a fair trial.
Using the Mais case as an example, one prominent defence attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity, questioned whether the accused could get a fair trial with the attention it has garnered on several social networking sites.
“Everybody has heard about this thing and everybody, to my mind, has formed an opinion one way or the other,” the attorney argued.
“This, to my mind, is the danger with the social networking media. Can the person ultimately get a fair trial?” the attorney reasoned.
Paula Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions (DPP), said the concern with social media from a law enforcement perspective is safeguarding the integrity of the identification process, a reference to the practice of having witnesses identify an accused person.
To underscore her point, Llewellyn said this was a critical issue, especially if the name of a suspect is released before an identification parade is held.
She said failure to safeguard the integrity of an identification parade or the whole question of identity during the course of an investigation can provide a legal basis to “totally undermine” a prosecution.
“Although you may have other evidence that might be there, you may find the (accused) person walking (beating the case),” she said.
“As a matter of law, identification as an ingredient of an offence that you have to prove, is regarded by the Privy Council as a special category of case,” she added.
Mais’ killing and the subsequent search for the BMW luxury vehicle believed to be involved was immediately, and has remained, a widespread topic of discussion on Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger.
Critics also argued that the social media was the breeding ground for rumours about the possible involvement of several high-profile persons.
The Kingston College sixth-form student was on his way to a fête at Meadowbrook High School two weeks ago when the taxi he was travelling in had a minor collision with the back of a BMW X6 along Highland Drive, in St Andrew.
Eyewitnesses report that this enraged the driver of the BMW X6 who used his vehicle to block the path of the taxi before firing several shots into it.
Driver in custody
Reports are that Mais was shot in the head and died at hospital.
The alleged driver of the X6 was taken into police custody when he returned to the island on Monday.
Up to late yesterday, police investigators had not questioned him about the incident.
Police Commissioner Owen Ellington, in a statement defending the decision of police investigators not to release the name of the suspect in the Mais case, complained that several social media networks were “awash with rumours” about the incident.
“These rumours did little to help the police investigations and, in some instances, only created confusion,” he lamented in the statement issued Wednesday.