With the explosion of social media usage in the last few years, law enforcement is beginning to use social media to acquire evidence in criminal proceedings. In fact, it is extremely common for law enforcement to view social media sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn. Social media is often used to obtain photos, videos or statements that help support the prosecutors' case. They can also help establish the motive for a crime, or even say where the defendant was at a particular time and place.
For example, an 18-year-old who was involved in a drunk driving accident updated her Facebook page to say “My dumba** got a DUI and hit a car LOL.” The judge in her case then ordered her to shut down her Facebook page, and when she refused he had her thrown in jail for contempt of court.
In another case, the FBI received a search warrant to access the Facebook pages of three defendants on trial for murder and drug charges. The warrant sought all postings, videos, contact information, photos, private messages, friend requests and “information about the user's access and use of Facebook applications.
Even “private” messages that are not publicly available to others can provide information to prosecutors. These messages can provide information that can be used, even years later. In one case, a woman's daughter passed away from child neglect and her uncle was charged with the crime. Years later, the woman told a friend that she was actually responsible for the child's death, via Facebook private message. The friend reported the information to the authorities, and that evidence was used to charge the woman with murder.
The Take-Away Lesson
If you are charged with a crime, it is generally a bad idea to post anything to social media sites about the crime, the charges, the police or anything to do with your arrest and prosecution. It may be used in NH criminal court cases. In fact, it may be a good idea to stop posting altogether, or even delete your social media profiles. The prosecution may seek to access your social media pages, and it is best if they cannot find anything.
Unfortunately, many people choose not to use their common sense about posting on social media websites. It is not uncommon for defendants to post explicit details about the crimes that they are accused of, or provide information that provides a motive for the crime. In addition, even if your social media post does not discuss the criminal proceedings, it can provide information about your location at the time of a posting. Location data can be particularly useful for the prosecution, because it can show that you were located near the area where the crime occurred.
Finally, social media websites show your friends and other connections as well. These social media sites can help to establish your connection to other defendants that are being charged as well. And if those friends and connections post about the crime themselves, they may be providing evidence against you. Again, while it may be difficult to contemplate, deleting your social media websites may be the best way to ensure that your posts and your friends' posts cannot come back to haunt you. That thing you want is to to be sitting in criminal court and have your Facebook profile pulled up.
For help on these issues in our area, be sure to reach out to a lawyer who has experience fighting crimes in NH and can ensure that all proper evidenciary rules are followed while your rights are respected.