Use of Social Media in Criminal Trials

Published: Mar 27, 2017, by admin in Criminal Defense, Legal Blog

Social media has become an integral part of daily life. With so much information about daily activities being broadcast or made available electronically through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter it creates mountains of potential evidence for the prosecution to use at a criminal trial. The use of social media in criminal trials is still a developing area of the law, but there are some things you should clearly avoid posting and ways to help prevent your social media history from being used against you.

If you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime, you need to prepare a substantial defense. An experienced criminal lawyer in Chicago can help you. Call O’Meara Law today at 312-909-0706.

Social Media Postings as Direct Evidence of Crime

The most obvious and most damaging way social media can be used against you in a criminal trial is when social media postings provide the direct evidence of a crime. Perhaps the most shocking example of this happened in Chicago earlier this year when four suspects were arrested for kidnapping a special-needs teenager and then live streaming on Facebook Live for nearly 30 minutes as they beat and tortured the victim.

As incredible as it sounds for someone to stream evidence of a serious crime through social media, what happened in Chicago is far from an isolated incident. In Ohio, a woman pled guilty and was sentenced to nine months in prison for live-streaming the rape of a 17-year-old girl, and in Louisiana earlier this year two people were arrested for an attempted kidnapping they streamed live on Facebook.

Public Postings Can be Used as Evidence

In addition to the instances where live streaming provides direct evidence of a crime, any public social media posting can be used as evidence against a defendant during a criminal trial. For instance, picture postings can be used for identification purposes or to show a defendant has been associated with known criminals or gang members.

Additionally, social media postings on the day a crime occurred can be used to help establish a timeline for the defendant’s activity that day. Even something as simple as a status update can be used as evidence of the defendant’s state of mind during the commission of a crime.

Privacy Settings are Key

While public social media postings can easily be used against a defendant in a criminal trial, private social media postings do have some protection. This is an important fact to keep in mind considering that up to 25 percent of Facebook users do not utilize the service’s privacy settings. Of particular importance for private social media posts is the Stored Communications Act (the SCA), a 1986 federal law designed to protect electronic communications that were not intended to be made public. The SCA’s protections for electronic communications have been found to apply to some social media postings. However, since the law was created and passed in a time before the prominence of social media the extent that the SCA’s protections apply to private social media postings is still being determined by the courts.

Deleting Your Social Media History

Considering the ways that social media postings can be used against a defendant in a criminal trial, it would seem that deleting a social media history would be the best way a defendant could avoid those negative consequences. However, deleting posts does not delete the evidence. Social media posts would still be stored electronically with the social media service, and could be obtained by the prosecution through a subpoena. In addition, deleting social media posts when you know you are under investigation could then lead to additional charges for obstruction of justice.

How a Chicago Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help

The reality of social media usage is that it is best to consider anything that you post as possible evidence that could be used against you in a criminal trial. The adage of not posting anything on social media that you would be embarrassed for your family to see is even truer when it comes to posting information you would not want a prosecutor to see. If you’ve been charged with a crime and know of social media postings that could harm your case, you need to contact a knowledgeable Chicago criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to help you mitigate any potential damage.

Attorney Michael O’Meara has more than 20 years of legal experience and has defended his clients on a wide range of charges. Attorney O’Meara is a former Cook County prosecutor, so he is aware of ways prosecutors could use your social media information in a criminal trial.

Call O’Meara Law today at 312-909-0706 for a free and confidential consultation regarding your case.