Can Social Media Comments Be Used as Criminal Evidence?
Almost everyone in the U.S. uses social media to some extent. In fact, 91 percent of adults use social media on a regular basis to communicate with others or for entertainment. For that reason, social media is quickly becoming a treasure trove of evidence for law enforcement. While many people are under the impression that their data is private based on their privacy settings, many people find that what they post can be used against them.
For some forms of social media, like Twitter, comments may be considered public domain. However, just because a post is not public domain does not mean it can’t be accessed by the police. Just like any other private source of evidence, judges can subpoena records or provide a search warrant to find information if there is probable cause. Unfortunately, with information that is made public even just to friends, there is a much greater chance that law enforcement will get probable cause or even access comments without a warrant legally. For example, a fake profile can be used to friend suspects. Any self-incriminating information found by an officer by accessing your profile that way is admissible. Furthermore, if a Facebook friend voluntarily gives law enforcement access to a friend’s profile through his or her own account, any incriminating comments are also admissible.
What kinds of social media comments may be incriminating?
Just like actual comments said to law enforcement, anything you say on social media can and will be held against you if opposing counsel can prove you posted it. That means that any angry rant posted about an arrest, any threat or even allusions to illegal acts can be used as evidence that you committed a crime. For example, many people arrested for DUIs have been given harsher sentences due to overwhelming proof of drinking on social media on the same evening of their arrest. In assault cases, prosecutors can use angry posts about the victim by the suspect as evidence of premeditation. Even if posts are later deleted, once posted, they can be used as evidence if they are found.
Even if a crime is not referenced in comments or on a social media profile directly, certain comments or posts can be used as evidence against the character of the accused. If you have albums of photos drinking and partying, it could be used as evidence of your recklessness in a child endangerment case. Also, references to doing drugs could be used as evidence for a possession charge later. Any comments by other people could be used as evidence as well. You not only need to be careful about what you say, but also about what is posted on your profile by others.
Since laws are still unclear about the extent to which law enforcement can use social media as evidence, it is possible to get some of this thrown out depending on the circumstances of an individual case. If you have been accused of a crime and are afraid that your comments on social media may harm your chances in court, contact a Pittsburgh criminal lawyer at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC for a free consultation today. Together we can work out your best defense.