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State Supreme Court Hears Key Case on Defendants’ Access to Social Media to Build Case

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On March 6th, the California Supreme Court heard a case that could have broad implications for the rest of the country regarding the ability for criminal defendants to access social media information in order to build the best, most comprehensive defense, as is their legal right.

Specifically, the case could determine just how much pretrial access defendants can have when it comes to witness’ social media accounts, and will also inevitably address the question of where the boundary is drawn between what is considered public and private in the digital world, and when/how a digital user provides lawful consent for others to access content under the Stored Communications Act (SCA).

What Does The Stored Communications Act Say, Exactly?

The SCA governs how service providers handle this data. In criminal defense cases, it frequently comes up as an issue in deciding to what extent criminal defendants can gain pretrial access to witness’ social media accounts in order to build their defense and, perhaps most importantly, cross-examine key witnesses in the case built against them.

Perhaps most importantly, the SCA addresses compelled and voluntary disclosure of stored electronic communications held by third-party internet service providers. Specifically, the law defines unlawful access to stored communications as an entity (company, etc.) intentionally accessing a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided. Many feel that the Act should be found unconstitutional, as it arguably interferes with the ability for criminal defendants to effectively assemble their own defense case and cross-examine key witnesses.

Unequal Access to Information

Prosecutors frequently argue that the Act does not imply that anyone can gain access to information, and that social media companies should decide where and when users have consented to their information being handed over to third parties. However, prosecutors are also easily able to obtain search warrants, and thus arguably have greater access to any and all information to build their cases. Shouldn’t those who are on trial be entitled to that same access? The case may ultimately come down to the question of what it means to be in possession of something.

History in the Courtroom

The case is on appeal from the First District Court, which found that the Act bars social media companies from handing over user records to criminal defendants. The Appeal decision reversed the trial judge’s ruling, which ordered various social media companies to hand over posts and logs from a witness’ social media account for review in a homicide case.

Florida and Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorneys Who Fight For Access to Necessary Information

If you have been charged with a crime, you need to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney who will fight aggressively to ensure that you have the best defense case possible assembled. This includes gaining access to any and all information necessary to cross-examine witnesses and build the best, most comprehensive defense.

Contact our defense attorneys at the Baez Law Firm today to find out more about our comprehensive criminal defense and civil rights services.

Resources:

law.com/therecorder/2018/03/06/cali-supreme-court-weighs-criminal-defendants-access-to-witness-social-media/

law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2701

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