State Supreme Court Rules in Defense’s Favor, Ordering Social Media Companies to Turn Over Private Messages
We have previously discussed the challenges involved with obtaining social media evidence, in large part due to the Stored Communications Act. However, the California Supreme Court heard an important case earlier this year that addressed whether or not criminal defendants could obtain both public and private social media posts in order to prepare the best defense possible.
In July, the Court decided that case in favor of criminal defendants. Specifically, the court lifted a stay blocking the release of these messages and instead released an opinion finding that the defense team obtaining these messages was strongly justified in this case.
The case involved a 2013 drive-by shooting involving a victim who had allegedly “tagged” a suspect on Instagram. That suspect was committed for a term of 83 years, while the other defendants were indicted on attempted murder, murder, and other charges. Prosecutors claim that the suspects involved members of a gang and that the victim was a member of the rival gang that threatened one of the suspects on social media.
The defense team served subpoenas on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to obtain all of the postings relevant to the case. While the judge had previously allowed the public social media postings to be provided to the defense, this ruling addressed private postings, including those from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Social Media Companies Hold Steadfast to Claims Behind Stored Communications Act
Facebook maintains that federal law – the Stored Communications Act – prohibits them from turning over private account content to the defense team and that withholding these messages is necessary in order to protect user privacy interests. Facebook now has an ongoing appeal, however, if the ruling is upheld and the company refuses to handover the messages, it could be held in contempt of court.
Prior to now, law enforcement essentially had the only access to any and all social media content during their criminal investigations. As a result, while social media could continually be used against defendants (potentially implicating Fourth Amendment protections for those defendants), they were also denied access to that same content to form their defense. Law enforcement has consistently maintained that social media users have no reasonable expectation of privacy in that sphere.
Contact The Right Defense Attorney
Although the decision came out of the California Supreme Court, it is expected to be cited by defense attorneys around the country seeking to obtain private messages in a number of cases. If you have been charged with a crime in Florida, contact our experienced Miami and Orlando criminal attorneys at the Baez Law Firm to ensure that the very best defense is assembled on your behalf by aggressive attorneys who will fight to obtain everything necessary to protect your rights.