Managing Your Court Case

Three Things You Need To Know About Social Media And Criminal Acts

There's a growing trend in the U.S. for people to post everything they do online. Cell phones with cameras are so common that most people don't even hesitate to pull one out to grab a quick shot for a Facebook post. You may even routinely do it yourself, documenting everything from your morning coffee to your trip to the club on Friday night. However, the wrong post could end up costing you in court. This is what you need to know.

1.) Someone will probably turn you in if you're doing something illegal.

While you might trust your brother, sister, or best friends to not call the police on you if you've done something foolish and illegal, you can't assume that everyone in your social media circle is going to do the same. More than likely, someone is going to be willing to turn you in, especially if they think that you're endangering yourself or others. For example, a young woman in Florida was arrested after live streaming video of herself—while drunk driving. Alarmed viewers helped the police track her down and stop her.

Someone might also turn you in just because they can. Perhaps you offended them at some point and they see their chance to get even and take it. For example, Ethan Couch, the teenager whose "affluenza" defense made legal history, found himself in jail after someone sent police video of the teen drinking at a party, a violation of his probation. The teen probably thought that he was safe to kick back and flout the rules a little since he was at a private party among friends, but the video was incriminating. 

2.) Your own photos, posts, and videos can end up being the strongest evidence against you.

Generally speaking, it used to be a little bit safer to admit to your past indiscretions than it is today—at least when it came to crimes like drinking and driving. In order to make a case against you, police usually have to rely on your blood alcohol content levels when they catch you in the act. Just telling a story about a past misadventure probably wouldn't give police enough evidence to charge you with a crime (since you could always say that you were exaggerating). 

Unless, of course, you videotape yourself actually drinking and driving and post it online for everyone to see. For example, in 2015, an Ohio man learned that the video he posted of himself drinking and driving was more than enough evidence to lead to charges, even though officers didn't catch up to him for several hours. Had he not posted his exploits on social media, the police may not have been able to charge him.

3.) The police are combing social media like never before.

The police and prosecutors have been embracing social media as an investigative and evidentiary tool for several years now. They've become increasingly savvy with technology, routinely requesting social media information on suspects and convicted criminals alike through subpoenas and warrants. It may surprise many people to learn that the police can—quite legally—make up online profiles and "friend" someone they're investigating. 

That means that if you accept the wrong friend request, you could be handing over photos, videos, and posts that could be used to incriminate you in court and sink any defense you had. For example, imagine that you've recently been arrested on a drunk driving charge, but there are questions about the reliability of the blood alcohol test you were given. An enterprising officer could befriend you on Facebook and find photos that your brother took while you are dinner that night—including ones with drinks in your hand. At that point, the prosecution will have a much easier time convincing a jury that you're likely guilty as charged.

If you have any inkling that you could be in trouble with the law, think twice before you step in front of a camera. If you're already in trouble, talk to a criminal defense attorney in San Bernadino, CA as soon as possible about your case.