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How social media can be used in a criminal case – words Alexa Wang
You never want to think you’re going to be facing criminal charges—it’s not typically something people plan for in their lives, but things don’t always work out as we plan. If you’re facing criminal charges or penal code violations, even minor ones, it can create serious anxiety and problems in your life.
Could your social media make it worse? Social media has become a pervasive part of our lives and society as a whole. It seems like we share nearly every minute of every day with our followers. People have made entire careers out of being social media influencers. Yet, the consequences of this level of sharing can be immense.
People have lost their jobs and relationships because of social media. Social media can also play a significant role in civil court proceedings, such as divorce or child custody cases.
What about criminal law proceedings? How can your social media sharing affect you if you’re in the midst of battling criminal charges?
The following are some things to know about social media and the consequences it can have in court.
Private Isn’t Enough
You may think that if you set your social media profiles to private, that’s enough to keep them from becoming problematic. This isn’t true. If your social media accounts are all set to private, police could still access them although it may be more difficult.
To access private accounts, police may need a court order, subpoena or a warrant. However, not always. Depending on the situation, the police could get a warrant that would compel the social media platform to provide access to your account, and this can include private messages you send and receive.
There are often misconceptions about what’s admissible in court versus what isn’t. For example, you may think social media evidence is automatically inadmissible, and this isn’t true. Admissibility is a term that refers to what a judge will allow being used in court, and social media evidence can be admissible.
For this to be the case, it will have to be authenticated which means it has to be proven that it authentically and truly portrays what is being claimed.
Since social media can be forged or altered, there can be obstacles to getting it admitted into trial. This may require a personal witness who can say for sure the evidence is authentic.
What is Social Media Evidence Used For?
This is a broad question, and social media evidence can be used for any number of things, but there are some specific examples. These include:
- Evidence gathered from social media can be used to strengthen a case against a suspect. For example photos as well as things like check-ins and status updates can be used to create timelines and piece together events. At the same time, these things can work in a defendant’s favor in some cases because they might be able to use social media to show they weren’t where police are claiming they were.
- Determining whereabouts when a crime is committed can be a big use of social media, as was touched on above.
- Social media can be used to identify potential witnesses or people associated with a criminal investigation.
- If you’re facing charges related to financial crimes, you have to be very careful about what you’re putting on social media, although there’s not much you can do about what you’ve already posted. For example, if you’re showing yourself spending lavishly on Facebook or Instagram and living luxuriously, it might be a problem.
If you are being investigated criminally, you have to think about not only what you’ve posted in the past, but what you’re posting presently. Your lawyer may advise you to stay off social media altogether. If you’re currently under investigation, don’t go on a spree of deleting what’s already on your accounts either. If you do this, it could lead to you being found in contempt of court, or you could be charged with destruction of evidence.
You may have realized you need to stay off social media if you’re facing charges or a precarious situation, but what about people that you know? Don’t forget about your friends or people you know who could be tagging photos of you.
Social media can put you in a difficult spot if you’re being investigated. The best thing to do is speak with your lawyer if you’re concerned about your social media profiles, or you’re unsure of whether or not you should post something.