Over the last decade, the advancements in technology have changed how we connect with one another. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have transformed how we share our lives with others. Through these platforms, any user, whether an individual, corporation, organ of government, or group can share information. On Facebook alone, over 2 billion people are monthly active users.
Although these sites are great for connecting with friends and family or for networking opportunities, information a person posts can be used as evidence in criminal investigations.
Law enforcement authorities can use several types of evidence against you in court, including evidence obtained from social media. It is important to know how social media use can directly affect your case and future if you are facing criminal charges.
While you may believe your personal information on social media sites are protected because you’ve adjusted your privacy settings, this guarantees nothing. Facebook and other platforms actively cooperate with police to reveal “protected” information. In many cases, the government does not need even a subpoena, court order or warrant to view this information on your social media account. Prosecutors also may comb through your online profiles to find evidence of criminal acts or connections with other criminal entities. The information may enable law enforcement to establish probable cause to search a suspects’ residence of lead to information on motives.
The Stored Communications Act (SCA) sets the conditions under which “providers of electronic storage information” may release the content of communications and “user information” to third parties. Even if material on social networking sites is discoverable, litigants seeking to discover and use social networking information must still prove its relevance to the case. When investigators manage to receive an account holder’s information, they’re still obligated to verify whether the name on the account belongs to the actual suspect. Additionally, they must make sure the posts were authentic, not pranks, and posted by the suspect.
Social media can and may be used against you in a court law to: discover new evidence, confirm alibis, develop connections, find suspects or witnesses, incriminate statements, or show what a suspect was doing prior to the crime being committed.
The following are some of the ways social media can have a negative impact on your criminal case:
Whether you have incriminating pictures on your social media pages or have been tagged in an incriminating photo by another person, these can be used as evidence against you in a criminal case. For example, if you are facing a DUI charge, and had posted photos at a bar or club before you were estimated to having got behind the wheel, it may be used as evidence. Even if the photos are deleted the following the charge, does not mean the photos will not be accessible. Networks can retrieve delete information and provide it as evidence in a criminal investigation.
Whatever you post on social media can also be used against you in a criminal case. For instance, say you post a status telling the public how you wish to cause harm to a certain individual. The following day, the two of you are involved in a physical altercation and you’re arrested and charged with assault. The prosecution can use that social media post against you to show your state of mind, prove you were the aggressor, and even imply that it was a premeditated act of violence.
Most social media platforms allow users to check-in to a location. However, check-ins can be used by law enforcement to gather evidence about your whereabouts at a particular time. For example, a check-in can be used to show that you were in the area where the crime was committed.
If you are currently under investigation for a criminal offense, it is wise that you void using social media until the case is closed. You can anticipate your profiles will be monitored, and you would want to refrain from posting anything that could potentially damage your case. Your family and friends may be interested in other life updates such as graduation or new employment, but they should not be updated about your criminal case on social media. If you question whether or not you should post something while your case is ongoing, contact your attorney.
Completely deleting your social media accounts can only make you appear guiltier since this type of action can be viewed as an attempt to destroy evidence.
If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime, contact the relentless, experienced criminal defense attorneys at Berry Law Firm.