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A Criminal Defense Attorney discusses how sites such as Facebook can undermine a
My buddy out in FLA, is a member of a criminal defense law firm, and we were discussing social media, one thing led to another, and they sent me this post from his firm. He said they utilize a blog to keep you up to date on the latest issues and changes in the law along with matters that may impact your very case. And they went into impacts of Social Media sites like Facebook. Although they serve an important purpose, and many of us including the criminal defense attorneys at our firm are guilty of using these very sites to keep in touch with friends, they can cause trouble. He says that: "We all know that potential employers check out Facebook to see what applicants are up to in their spare time. Who needs to run a background check on the new guy/girl you just started dating when you can just Google their name?
Rumor has it that school administrators are now
turning to the popular chat forums for the inside scoop as well. But what people may not realize is
that the pictures you post (or friends tag you in) and your status updates or rants can come back to
haunt you if you somehow get involved in the criminal justice system.
Of course, there are times when defense attorneys will locate victims or witnesses online to see if they are discussing or involved in anything that may discredit them and that we can use against them. Keep in mind that a picture can tell many stories and it is often not fair that someone would make an assumption or form a generalization off of a single picture.
we can only do so much to control how a juror interprets a picture and cannot undue the potential
harm of such an individual forming a generalization regarding a client’s lifestyle or
propensity to engage in certain activities. Before posting a picture, keep in mind that if you are
actively engaged in a case, this could come back to haunt you.
Need a real-life example? I had a client not too long ago, we will call him Carl. The issue in Carl’s case was one of identification- meaning we all believed a crime occurred; it was just a matter of the prosecutor proving who committed the crime. We will call the victim Ed.
Turns out that Carl knew Ed, they had gone to school together some years before. Carl sent messages to Ed on Facebook that consisted of him apologizing for his criminal acts and asking Ed to “help” him out by not cooperating with state attorney’s office. Carl even offered to return the items he stole from Ed. In Carl’s defense- he did not use his first name on his Facebook account- he used a nickname- with his real last name. Unfortunately, the information section on Carl’s page gave his date of birth and of course there are pictures on the account.
It was not too hard for Ed to verify that the person who sent him the messages was the
person who victimized him, and that was the person who had been charged. The police did not get a
confession out of Carl, but social media sure did.
It is not just the parties to the case that use social media, jurors do too! Jurors could use the internet to do their own investigation on a defendant or victim or even law enforcement officers. Jurors could post information about the trial or read something they were not permitted to hear in court.
The internet and social media has had such an impact on the criminal courts that there is now a jury instruction warning against the use of electronic communication during a criminal trial. It specifically prohibits using electronic devices to blog, Twitter, e-mail, etc. Twitter? In a jury instruction? Yes folks…the times, they are a changin’, post wisely. My counterparts in the personal injury field often tell me that insurance adjusters are now checking facebook sites of all claimants to search for anything that could undermine the claim and hand their very hat on."