I've Been Accused of a Crime. Should I Stay Off Social Media?

If you have been accused of a crime, one of the first things your criminal defense attorney might tell you is to stay off social media. The advisement is to protect you from posting anything that could be used against you and hurt your case.

Social media posts, be they pictures, comments, or videos, are generally not private. They may be discoverable, and the prosecutor may use them as evidence to build their case. Even if you think what you've posted is innocuous and unrelated to the criminal matter, the other side may misconstrue or abuse statements or images to twist them in their favor.

Although it might be hard to refrain from using social media, staying off it may be in your best interests for the duration of your criminal case. It can prevent you from sharing anything that might be self-incriminating.

For legal advice and counsel in Cleveland, contact Patituce & Associates at (440) 709-8088 today.

Do Police Officers and Prosecutors Actually Look at Social Media?

People often turn to social media to express their feelings, thoughts, and opinions. In many situations, the shares are unfiltered, giving a candid look into a person's inner world.

Recognizing that social media sites host an abundance of personal information that normally would not have been expressed in a "real-world public forum," law enforcement officials and prosecutors may comb through these platforms. As part of their investigation, they might discover information suggesting that you have committed or were planning on committing a crime. Therefore, depending on what you post, authorities may try to link you to criminal activity.

Officials may also be able to use your social media posts to counter statements you have made, weakening your arguments. For instance, suppose you said that you were not at the location where an alleged event occurred. Yet, one of your social posts, date and time-stamped, suggests otherwise. Your contradictory statements will come into question.

And it's not just posts on your personal profile you need to worry about during a criminal investigation or prosecution. Authorities may also look at comments you made on someone else's page or messages you sent to another person to gather evidence against you. Thus, even though something might not be viewable on your page, that doesn't mean officials can't get their hands on it. They may rely on your "friends" or "followers" as cooperating witnesses and ask them to share anything you've sent to those individuals.

Can Social Media Posts Be Admitted in Court?

The prosecutor will likely try to present your social media posts as evidence in court, especially if they believe that the information can be used to strengthen their case. However, although you don't have much expectation of privacy when posting on social media, that doesn't mean the prosecutor can introduce any of your videos, comments, pictures, or other information at trial.

The rules of evidence still apply to social media posts. Therefore, the prosecutor must show that proper procedures were followed in retrieving them. For example, if they want to present something that you sent to someone expecting it to be private, the prosecutor must demonstrate that the data was legally obtained and that it has relevance to your case.

Also, the prosecutor must show that the content is verified as authentic and created by you. To illustrate, say the prosecutor wants to introduce a post from one of your social media profiles as evidence. The information in the post somehow links you to the alleged crime.

Although the prosecutor might be able to show that the post came from your personal page, they must also prove that you were the one who wrote it. Your social media could have been hacked, and someone else updated your status to incriminate you. If evidence does not exist that you were the one who created the post, the content might not be admissible in court.

When determining the relevancy, authenticity, and authorship of a post, the court will consider the entirety of the circumstantial facts.

How Can Social Media Affect My Criminal Case?

A post on social media can impact your criminal case in several ways. As mentioned earlier, if it's deemed admissible in court, it can be used to link you to the alleged crime. If the post and other evidence the prosecutor introduces is sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge or jury might convict you.

But the role of social media updates does not stop there. If you are convicted, the judge may consider your posts as aggravating factors during sentencing. They may justify imposing a harsher sentence based on relevant statements about the alleged offense. This recently happened in a case involving one of the people allegedly involved in the January 6 incident on Capitol Hill. According to a report by The Guardian, a judge sentenced a defendant to jail, instead of probation as the prosecutor recommended, because the individual's lack of remorse for her actions was evident in her social media posts.

Can I Just Delete My Social Media Posts?

Seeing how your comments, updates, photos, and videos online can negatively affect your criminal case, you might be tempted to delete what you've posted. But this action is inadvisable also.

Deleting social media posts can be considered destruction of evidence. This has adverse consequences for your current case, and you might also be subject to additional criminal charges and penalties.

If you've posted something you feel might be misconstrued, discuss it with your criminal defense attorney. They can determine how to address the situation and ways to counter any arguments the prosecutor makes.

Get Legal Help for Your Case

When you're involved in a criminal matter, you have the right to remain silent. This right protects you from unknowingly making self-incriminating statements. It applies not just to things you say aloud but also to what you post online.

Exercise this right, and refrain from making comments or providing updates on your social media accounts. Although you might want to clear your name or think you're not saying anything relevant to your case, your words can be taken out of context. And what gets put on the Internet is relatively permanent and easily shareable.

If you need representation for your criminal case in Cleveland, call Patituce & Associates at (440) 709-8088 or contact us online today.