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Use of Social Media in Criminal Cases

Americans’ use of social media has exploded in the past few years. Millions of us have social media profiles through sites and services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Foursquare, and others. We share with online “friends” and the general public an enormous amount of personal information, including photographs, observations, locations, and descriptions of our daily lives. But we don’t often think about how much evidence we may be providing the government, to be used against us in a criminal case.

Social media is a “goldmine” of evidence

In a story on Bloomberg’s BNA.com site, the treasure trove of information available to police through social media is described as “a goldmine” that includes:

  • profiles;
  • friend lists;
  • group memberships;
  • photos;
  • tweets;
  • messages;
  • chat logs;
  • videos;
  • tags;
  • check-ins;
  • location services;
  • login timetables, and more.

Moreover, while because of the Fourth Amendment, police need a warrant to search your home and your cell phone, much of the information we share on social media is publicly available, without requiring a warrant or a subpoena to a social media company to obtain it. Even if you restrict access to your various posts through privacy settings, it is not unheard of for the government to access social media profiles through creating a fake profile or enlisting the aid of witnesses who might include your online friends and acquaintances.

What kind of evidence can the police find on social media?

While privacy and other constitutional issues regarding social media remain unsettled and are being litigated in a variety of arenas, it is important to be aware of the ways in which your online presence can be used against you.

Direct evidence of a crime

In October 2015, a Florida woman made national news when she live-streamed herself driving drunk on the social media site Periscope. This is a good example of handing the police direct, real-time evidence of a crime. Other examples include posting pictures with weapons or stolen goods, or bragging about illegal activity. This is the most obvious way that social media posts can be used against you, but there are less obvious ways as well.

Circumstantial evidence of a crime

Other kinds of posts support the factual inference that someone has committed a crime. This kind of material is described as circumstantial evidence.   For example:

  • GPS location services, or checking in at a location, provide evidence that a person was at or near the location of a crime when that crime was committed.
  • A posted rant in which a person rails against or otherwise threatens a crime victim suggests that the person may have committed violence against the victim or intends to do so.
  • Posting a photograph taken at a bar the same evening a person is arrested for DUI supports the inference that the person was in fact intoxicated.
  • If a person’s friend list contains known criminals, it suggests that the person associates with criminals and is therefore more likely to have committed criminal acts. For example, if someone is charged with drug possession with intent to sell, the fact that he counts known drug offenders among his Facebook friends can be used to support the allegation.

Consult an Orlando criminal defense attorney

If you have been arrested or face criminal charges, you need a skilled and determined criminal defense attorney to protect your rights. The knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers of The Baez Law Firm have extensive experience representing clients charged with all types of crimes in Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and throughout Florida. Contact The Baez Law Firm for a consultation today.

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