Over the last decade, advancements in cellphone technology have made it easier than ever to keep updated (for better and worse) with friends and family. Social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have completely revolutionized how we communicate and share our lives with others. However, when people post their hearts, souls, and dinner choices online, they suddenly don’t have any secrets to keep from the world. The content on these accounts can negatively influence a person’s personal relationships, career opportunities, and educational options. Likewise, this same social media information can be used against a defendant in a criminal defense case.
Social Media & Your Criminal Defense Case
If you’re facing criminal charges, it’s important to understand how social media can directly affect the outcome of your court case. You can’t rely on privacy settings to protect your social media footprint. Social media platforms, including Facebook, don’t even require a court order or subpoena to actively cooperate with law enforcement officials. This means that your protected information is fair game and can be used against you as evidence in court. Prosecutors can review your online accounts to establish probable cause, discover connections to criminal activities, uncover incriminating evidence, and even locate witnesses.
How Investigators Can Turn Your Cultivated Social Media Presence Against You
For many people, posting daily thoughts and incidents to social media has become an irrepressible habit. However, during your case, it’s imperative that you avoid using social media and refrain from posting any content that may harm your case. The prosecution can paint a narrative of events just by reviewing your posts, pictures, videos, and message conversations. If you post anything incriminating about your situation or the arrest, it may come back to haunt you when your case goes to trial.
Any information that you post online can be used against you in court. For example, if you’ve been charged with assault and battery, the prosecution can locate posts that imply a premeditated intent to cause harm to the victim. A tweet posted yesterday and a harmless, angry rant of 2 months ago can both be used to prove your guilt in court.
Any incriminating photos that exist online can also be used against you. For instance, if you’re facing DUID charges, any photos that show you using drugs just prior to the arrest can be considered damning evidence. This scenario also includes any pictures you happen to be tagged in. Unfortunately, you aren’t protected even if you delete these photos. Social media platforms can retrieve deleted information for law enforcement officials to use in your criminal case.
Most social media platforms provide location “check-in” options for users. While it’s a quick way to brag about your on-the-go adventures to friends, it can also place you at the scene of a crime. During the criminal investigation, your social media accounts will be continually monitored by investigators and prosecutors. If you can, avoid posting any content that can track your movements and further implicate you.
The Stored Communications Act
The Stored Communications Act (SCA) is a federal law that is part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. The SCA protects the privacy of electronic communications and lists the conditions under which federal and state law enforcement officials can request the disclosure of stored information. It also lists the circumstances that allow a service provider to voluntarily disclose a customer’s private communication records. Under these provisions, investigators can’t use social media information as evidence unless they can undeniably prove that the content is relevant to the case.
To use social media content as evidence in court, investigators and litigators must first:
- Confirm that the account belongs to the suspect
- Verify that the content in the post is authentic
- Prove that the suspect posted the content
- Demonstrate that the content is relevant to the case
Deleting Your Accounts
After reading all this information, it can be tempting to just permanently delete your social media accounts in a moment of panic. However, even mass deleting your social media can make you look guilty; in fact, it can even be viewed as an attempt to destroy case evidence.
Facing Criminal Charges? Seek Experienced Legal Representation
Your future relies on keeping the details of your case off social media. If you’re currently under investigation, contact The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller. We can litigate on your behalf in court, provide you with compassionate legal guidance, and encourage you to avoid using social media.