The California Supreme Court made an unprecedented ruling on Wednesday, July 24, during a gang-related murder trial. The ruling is allowing the defense to obtain private social media posts from social media companies. This marks the first time a ruling of this nature was made in a California court according to the Los Angeles Times reporting. The order noted that the findings of the judge were substantial enough to warrant this access.
This gang-related trial had a ruling last year that allowed the defense access to public social media postings which occurred around the time of the murders, but not to the private postings. What this new ruling by the Supreme Court means is that the lower court judge has the ability to view postings from social media giants such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The judge then has the right to determine which will be provided to the defense.
Facebook has been trying to block such access with an ongoing appeal against the ruling. The company says they are fighting to protect the privacy interests of their users. They are looking into all options to defend such interests as a result of the court’s order. In the process, Facebook could be held in contempt of court if the ruling is upheld and the company refuses to provide access to the posts. Twitter has not currently provided comments on the matter.
The California Supreme Court’s decision, in this case, isn’t one that is binding for other cases in the courts. However, if it successfully moves forward in this case, it is expected to be widely used as a way for other defense attorneys to obtain such crucial private posts in other cases.
Social media companies have been roundly opposed to allowing such access to their users’ private information. They argue that federal privacy law, the Stored Communications Act, protects from such access. Only in very restricted circumstances should access be permitted, such as in the case of law enforcement who have forced these companies to provide the information in the past.
The Gang-Related Case
The case is a criminal one that revolves around killing as well as an attempted killing in June in San Francisco. Social media became entwined with the case when the 14-year old boy who was part of the shooting explained to police that he was “tagged” on an Instagram video with guns. The young boy admitted he shot the victim six times. He believed that if the victim would have shot him if the opportunity was present.
The boy who was tried in juvenile court and his cohorts, Derrick Hunter and Lee Sullivan who are separately indicted on murder in addition to other charges are believed to be members of a gang. It is also believed the victim, Jaquan Rice Jr. was a member of a rival gang who took to social media to threaten the boy.
Criminal Fraud Defense in California
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