Your Facebook May Be Used Against You in a Criminal Trial
If you are like many people, you probably have set up your Facebook privacy settings to limit what some people can see about you. At the very least, you probably expect your Facebook chats and messages to be kept away from those not included in the message. Unfortunately, no matter how private you may think something on Facebook is, anything you post on Facebook can be used in a court of law.
Almost every trial involves social media nowadays. In fact, according to a 2012 LexisNexis Risk Solutions survey of law enforcement, about 83 percent of cases use social media some way. That number may have since gone up. In the last six months of 2014 alone, Facebook reported receiving 14,274 requests for private Facebook information from law enforcement agencies across the country to be used in investigations. This number may seem huge, but when you consider that much of this type of evidence is also obtained from witnesses, victims, and public searches, the amount of evidence collected off Facebook is staggering.
How Law Enforcement Uses Facebook Posts in Trials
If you or someone you know posts direct evidence of a crime online, obviously this can be used in a trial during the criminal process. For a lot of people, this “stupid” behavior seems to earn any consequences. Most of the time, though, the people hit with social media evidence at trial are not posting selfies with stolen items or status updates like “LOL drinking and driving.” The evidence used by law enforcement is usually much less direct—and much more likely to unexpectedly intrude on your privacy.
For example, having many Facebook pictures simply at a bar or drinking can be used as evidence of alcohol abuse during a DUI case. Posts about 4/11 or support of marijuana legalization pages could be used in a drug trial. Even simple location tags on Facebook could give evidence of your presence in the vicinity of a crime you are accused of. Many people find that posts they believed to be innocuous or even chats they believed to be private are used as damning evidence during a trial.
Further complicating this issue, here in Pennsylvania very little proof is required to get access to the “private” data on Facebook. According to an Allegheny County Pleas Court opinion, judges should grant law enforcement access to Facebook accounts if they can plausibly argue that “relevant information may be contained within the non-public portions of the profile.” In practice, any relatively innocent public photo or post that could possibly link to a crime could give law enforcement access to more private information. This precedent is worrying to many lawyers and civil rights and privacy organizations, and may someday be limited, but for now, anything you post on Facebook can—and will— be used against you in court of law.
If you are arrested and worried about how your social media presence may affect your trial, call the experienced Pittsburgh criminal attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today for a free consultation on your case at (412) 281-2146. We will look over any potentially damaging evidence and work out a strategy to help you get the best outcome for your case possible.