Social media has taken over modern life. We check it before we sleep, when we wake up, and we use it throughout the day to keep up with almost every aspect of the outside world. So, it’s not surprising that law enforcement officials are turning to information gathered from social media to collect evidence against those suspected of committing crimes.
When it comes to a criminal investigation, social media is particularly interesting because gathering this type of information does not necessarily require a warrant. Without the legal protections provided for a typical search by law enforcement, those facing criminal charges often wonder if social media can be used as evidence in their trial.
Types of Social Media Evidence in Criminal Cases
There are many different types of social media that may come forth as evidence in criminal cases. The type of post, whether it was on a shared or private account, whether it was deleted, and a host of other factors may influence whether it is considered admissible in a court of law.
The following are examples of social media evidence:
- Photographs or videos posted on Facebook
- Facebook or Instagram comments
- YouTube or TikTok videos
- Instagram stories or posts
- “Tweets” on Twitter
- Blog posts
- Tumblr posts
- Videos posted on Snapchat
How Social Media Directly & Indirectly Impacts Criminal Cases
Let’s take a look at an example of how social media evidence may indirectly impact a criminal case. Andrew is suspected of stealing a flat-screen television from his neighbor, Tom. Local police open an investigation and check Andrew’s Facebook profile, which is set to public. They see a picture of Andrew with a television matching the description of the neighbor’s missing TV. Law enforcement uses this photo to get a warrant to search Andrew’s property, find the TV, and end up charging Andrew not only with theft but with burglary because he allegedly went into his neighbor’s house to take the TV.
Now, let’s consider a case where social media evidence could be used directly against a defendant. Jim is accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Sarah. In investigating the matter, detectives discover several comments Jim has made on Sarah’s Instagram and Facebook posts, where he threatens her on four separate occasions because she has a new partner. This type of evidence could be used in combination with other evidence or witness testimony to support the prosecution’s case against Jim.
It is important to note that social media evidence may be used by the defense or the prosecution in a criminal case in Florida. Its admissibility will vary on a case by case basis, so it is crucial to work with a criminal defense attorney who knows exactly how such evidence may be viewed by the court.
How Can Social Media Be Used by the Prosecution?
Even if a social media account is set to private, some information from the account might still be publicly accessible. This means that a person’s posts, messages, and photos might be used by the prosecution against them in court. Since social media evidence is a relatively new practice in the legal system, some courts might struggle with the admissibility of its use in a trial.
A court might see social media as an admissible form of evidence in the following instances:
- If something was publicly posted, shared, or messaged on social media, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy as defined by the courts.
- Any part of the social media account that is made publicly available can be used to prove that additional information exists.
Notably, social media evidence can be used against a person even if they did not share the content. For example, if a person’s friend posts a picture of them doing an illegal activity, the photo can be used against them in court.
Social Media Evidence for the Defense
Social media evidence in criminal cases does not always have negative consequences for defendants. It could establish an alibi or even provide physical evidence by way of a picture or video that an alleged crime did not occur. So, social media evidence could influence your case in different ways. Your attorney should determine how to use this to positively influence the outcome of an investigation or charges.
How Privacy Settings Affect Social Media Evidence
An account set to private or a message sent to one person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. A public post or account, however, may not have that expectation. This is somewhat of a grey area when it comes to social media evidence in criminal cases, so it is important to review such matters with your attorney. Private messages and accounts should be kept private.
Does Deleting Social Media Protect Someone Facing Criminal Charges?
A person facing criminal charges should not delete their social media accounts. This is because the rules of evidence apply to their account. If a court discovers that a person deleted their social media account or posts in reaction to criminal charges, it could hold them accountable for the destruction of evidence. Instead, a person facing criminal charges should obtain advice from an attorney to learn how to manage their social media accounts.
Call Thomas & Paulk, P.A. for Help at (813) 321-7323
If you’re facing criminal charges and are worried that your social media posts might be part of your case, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense firm. At Thomas & Paulk, P.A., we’ve helped thousands of clients during some of the most difficult times of their lives. We’re ready to listen to your story, develop a strong defense, and fight to be the voice you deserve to protect your future in court.
Call our Tampa criminal defense lawyers now at (813) 321-7323. An initial consultation with a member of our team is free, so you can discover your options at no risk.