One of the most common complaints we get from our clients is how their social media is impacting their case. We have covered this topic in a few of our previous posts, that, if you haven’t read yet, you may want to:
The three main takeaways and common themes in criminal proceedings where social media was used as evidence are:
- NOTHING, and we mean NOTHING, on the internet is private.
- Photo evidence is difficult to dispute.
- Anything you post can, and will, be used against you in the court of law.
There are many internet and social media myths that the public believe and your criminal defense attorney wishes you didn’t. In today’s post, we are going to visit some common internet and social media usage myths and how they can impact your criminal proceedings. We will also include a few examples of how social media has turned a trial in a direction that even the best criminal defense attorney would find it difficult to recover from.
Internet Myths We Wish You Didn’t Believe
“Incognito” is a private browsing that will leave to trace of my internet exploring.
This is 100% false. Many people interpret this “private” browsing window to mean that no one will be able to discover their searches. And, while this is relatively true, it is not an absolute. An incognito mode page simply prevents your history from creating cookies or being stored in the “history” memory of your internet tab. It also does not save text that is input into a site or forms on the site. While this may prevent your wife from accidentally encountering your porn browsing, it does not prevent the police from discovering your Google search on “how to hide a body.” Nothing, and we mean nothing, you do on the internet is private and everything you do can be tracked. If you are not willing to have law enforcement know about it, don’t search it.
If I put it in a story instead of on my wall, it’s better.
Again, good in theory, poor in practice. Sure, social media stories only last a set length of time and you can restrict who sees them. However, nothing you put on the internet is private. Everything you put on the internet lasts on the internet forever. Anyone with the right knowledge can access anything you put onto the internet. Whether it is in a private message, a screenshot on your phone, a story, a wall post, or a comment on someone else’s post, it can be tracked. Anything you post can be used as incriminating evidence and can help the prosecutor develop a timeline of events. We will reiterate again, if you do not want law enforcement to see it, do not share it. No way, no how, just do not share it. Not in a text, not in a DM, a PM, a snap, a message, a voicemail, an email, or any other way.
How can stories be used against you, you may ask. Because of the limited time they are available to be viewed, it can help law enforcement narrow your timeline down better than if you had shared it on your wall. Additionally, even once it disappears, screenshots never do. And, even worse, the internet is a public domain, which means no search warrant necessary.
Snapchat disappears once someone views it.
Snaps do disappear once another user views it, however, if there’s one thing we hope you’ve come to understand as a common thread among these myths is that everything can be recovered. The image still exists and the user on the other end is able to screenshot the snap. Case in point, we previously shared a case where Snapchat led to the prosecution of three people in a sexual assault case. What would have been a typical “he said, she said” case was a bonified sexual assault caught on digital media.
Here in Colorado, Snapchat was used to investigate and break the case of a drug murder that led to a conviction.
I deleted it, so I’m good.
The thing about the internet is, nothing is ever really deleted. There are no take-backs on the world wide web. Once an image or information is released, it is incredibly difficult to get it back. Perhaps a deleted comment is hidden from a thread or a deleted post is gone from your wall, however, it can still show up in people’s alerts, in their feed, and before you deleted it, other users may have screenshot it or shared it.
In a murder trial in San Bernadino, the supposed perpetrator confessed to the crime on her Facebook page. Although, in this case, her criminal defense lawyer could have argued self-defense, the social media post and subsequent law enforcement evasion hung her case.
Our suggestion is to follow some simple social media rules:
- Don’t post anything you aren’t willing for the whole world to see.
- If you don’t want to share it with a prosecutor, don’t share it with anyone, anyway.
- Never, ever post about your open case.
- Call a criminal defense attorney immediately if there is digital evidence of anything you are accused of — whether it is in your favor or not.
There are a few defenses that have been successfully used against social media and internet evidence, including the claim that someone else actually made the post. If you have been accused of a crime, contact the legal team at the Law Offices of Murphy and Price to let us begin building your criminal defense today.