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How Can Social Media Impact Your Criminal Case?

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Today, it seems like everyone has at least one social media account. While these platforms allow us to connect with friends, family, and people around the world, what you share online can cause harm — especially if you are facing criminal charges. Depending on what you post, social media can heavily impact your case, possibly leading to increased evidence against you and harsher penalties.

How Does Law Enforcement Use Social Media?

In criminal investigations, police officers can use your activity on social media sites to develop a case against you. Any public content you or one of your friends or followers share could harm your case. Investigators may scroll through your posts to find new evidence or uncover incriminating posts, such as photographs, check-ins to certain locations, and status updates.

Using this data, they can try to deduce whether you were at the scene of the crime, and whether there are any other suspects or witnesses they can speak to. Law enforcement officers may also use social media to validate alibis.

Can Social Media Be Used as Evidence?

Although social media evidence is a new legal frontier, recent cases have begun to establish precedent for how the prosecution can use this content in court. There are several legal ways the prosecution may use social media against you.

  • If you make a public post on social media, the prosecution may use what you post as evidence against you. Since it is publicly available, these public posts do not count as illegally obtained evidence under the Fourth Amendment.
  • Even if you set your account to private, your social media can harm you. The prosecution may ask one of your friends or followers to obtain this information and pass it on to them as a cooperating witness.
  • Deleted posts can also harm your case and raise suspicion. If the prosecution notices that you delete content, they could claim that you are destroying or spoiling relevant evidence. The court can hold this information against you, which can affect the jury’s opinion.
  • If the prosecution believes you have sensitive information on your smartphone, they may apply for a warrant, subpoena, or court order to obtain this evidence from you. In some cases, they may subpoena the phone manufacturer or even the social media platform to obtain this information. However, these entities usually try to protect the privacy of their users in these situations, and the company may try to fight this request.

Examples of Social Media Used in Cases

Social media use has contributed to the conviction of many people facing criminal charges. Recent examples include the following.

  • Two Georgia teens posted videos on Snapchat detailing a lengthy vandalism spree. Police arrested and charged them with five felonies and four misdemeanors.
  • Police in Florida arrested a Periscope streamer after she live-streamed videos of herself drinking at several bars and driving home. Her viewers called 911.
  • One Florida man faced 142 felony charges after he posted pictures on Instagram holding guns, drugs, and large amounts of cash, allowing the police to obtain a warrant.
  • An Ohio couple faced bank robbery charges after they posted pictures of themselves holding large amounts of cash.

Staying safe on social media is crucial to avoid hurting your case. However, it’s often difficult to tell the difference between what is appropriate and inappropriate to share online. Speaking to a criminal defense attorney can help; your lawyer will have significant experience representing people facing criminal charges, and can identify what you should and should not post. If you have not done so already, contact an attorney as soon as you can to discuss your charges.

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