Having an online presence is almost a requirement to function in today’s society. However, this reality does present concerns if someone is prosecuted for a crime, and needs the services of a criminal defense attorney to fight the charges. Living one’s life online has become so ingrained that many transactions can only be completed this way, and employers now look for and expect to see information on prospective employees when evaluating a person’s candidacy. Social media, in particular, has taken over the way people communicate and find important information, and police recognize that this forum offers opportunities to collect intel on criminal activity. Numerous stories have hit the news in the past few years about the methods police use to watch and track individuals they suspect of committing crimes, with little oversight on who is being monitored and how long the information is retained. Understanding how police monitor the public on social media, and when this type of information can be used at trial, should help anyone concerned about protecting the information they post on social media.
Police departments across the country, California included, are increasing their purchase and implementation of software specifically designed to monitor popular social media websites and track accounts identified as posing threats to police and the public. In fact, these companies are actively marketing this software to law enforcement as effective methods of surveillance, but some social media sites are starting to cut off access to these companies to protect their users’ privacy. This software provides real time, location-based data analysis of social media posts, which police are using to target political and social activist groups, in particular, in these information sweeps. These groups are frequently scrutinized because they tend to post the locations and times of planned protests on these sites. Even more disturbing, police are purchasing this software in secret without public notice or comment or legislative approval. Further, while the monitoring of social media by police is no longer a secret, how the information is used and the extent of monitoring beyond protest groups are completely unknown.
Social Media Evidence in Criminal Trials
Since surveillance by police of social media sites is known, the next piece of important information to have is how social media data is used in criminal trials. The primary way social media evidence is used is to impeach witness statements made on the stand. Basically, this means that the content on social media conflicts with what was said in the courtroom, indicating that the person is making a false statement. While this may not seem like a serious issue, depending on the substance of the statement, it could be the key piece in a criminal case. For example, if the prosecution is trying to allege the defendant is part of a gang, and the defendant denies this charge, the introduction screenshots of the defendant making gang signs or statements in support of gang activity by the prosecution would be very damaging to the defendant’s argument. Thus, when posting content to social media, keeping in mind how easily these snapshots in time can be misconstrued and twisted in unintended ways by others, try to limit posts that could put someone in a bad light.
Finally, it may be tempting to delete potentially damning information from social media sites after being charged with a crime. However, these deletions can be discovered and recovered in most cases, and the act of deleting potentially relevant evidence could lead to additional criminal charges for tampering with evidence.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Being charged with a crime is an overwhelming situation, and hiring the right criminal defense attorney can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of the case. Manshoory Law Group, APC defends individuals accused of crimes in Los Angeles, and will fight to protect your rights and get you the best possible result. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today for a free consultation.