While it may not be surprising that something you post on your Facebook wall could get you in legal trouble, it may surprise you that a judge has ordered a man to post something on his wall or to face jail time.
According to court records in Cincinnati, Ohio, Mark Byron was charged with and found guilty of civil domestic violence against his wife, Elizabeth Byron in June 2011. Elizabeth was granted a temporary protection order and primary custody of their son. Mark was allowed supervised visits with their son twice a week. He has appealed that conviction, and the appeal is still processing. A divorce between Mark and Elizabeth is also in the works.
Then, in November, 2011, Mark posted to his Facebook wall:
"If you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband's life and take your son's father away from him completely -- all you need to do is say that you're scared of your husband or domestic partner and they'll take him away!"Mark's wife was blocked from his Facebook page, but somehow she saw the posting anyway. She then filed a motion with the court saying that Mark had violated the protection order, which stated that Mark was prohibited from "causing plaintiff or the child of the parties to suffer physical and/or mental abuse, harassment, annoyance or bodily injury."
A magistrate agreed, and ruled that Mark Byron pay a $500 fine and spend 60 days in jail.
That all seems pretty cut and dried. The surprising part is what the magistrate did next.
He composed a written apology for Byron, which he wrote into the sentence. And, he ordered that Byron could, at his choosing, post that apology to his Facebook wall for 30 days in lieu of his 60-day sentence.
The magistrate-written apology reads:
"I would like to apologize to my wife, Elizabeth Byron, for the comments regarding her and our son [name withheld] which were posted on my Facebook wall on or about November 23, 2011. I hereby acknowledge that two judicial officials in the Hamilton County Domestic Relations court have heard evidence and determined that I committed an act of domestic violence against Elizabeth in January 17, 2011. While that determination is currently being appealed, it has not been overturned by the appellate court. As a result of that determination, I was granted supervised parenting time with [our son] on a twice weekly basis. The reason I saw [our son] only one time during the four month period which ended about the time of my Facebook posting was because I chose to see him on only that single occasion during that period. I hereby apologize to Elizabeth for casting her ni an unfavorable light by suggesting that she withheld from me or that she in any manner prevented me from seeing [our son] during that period. That decision was mine and mine alone.
While onlookers are voicing First Amendment concerns over the sentence...
..a court ordering a public apology when a defendant has been found guilty is not new. In one instance, involving the Rockmore company in Massachusetts in 2010, the court assessed a fine of $300,000 and ordered the company to purchase full-page ads in the Salem News and Boston Herald to publicly apologize for dumping human waste in area harbors and rivers from its 59-foot ferry. The ongoing behavior was uncovered when an assistant harbormaster following the ship suddenly found his own vessel engulfed in sewage. The court-ordered apology read:
"We, the Rockmore Company, sincerely apologize for contaminating the coastal waterways of Massachusetts. Our business operations include ferry service along the North Shore aboard the Salem-based P/O Hannah Glover and a lunch and dinner barge in Salem Harbor called the P/O Rockmore. Our company has discharged human waste directly into coastal Massachusetts waters. For these actions, we have paid a steep fine and have pleaded guilty to criminal charges. We are sorry. - The Rockmore Company"The goal of such high-profile "name and shame" apologies is to deter the same sort of behavior from others in the future. Many times, this sort of tactic is used on a corporation, which has no feelings of shame, per se.
The amount of notice garnered by Mark Byron's case is largely due to the fact that it took place on Facebook, the largest social media site in the world. Actions on Facebook and the real-world consequences thereof, are still being explored in courts and workplaces.