Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I borrowed this from FRAMED Thanks for the great post!

(Explained in detail after the article)

Ira Piltz, Greenpoint Technologies

Increasingly, prosecutors as well as defense attorneys have resorted to using materials pulled from individuals’ Facebook and MySpace accounts as trial evidence. Such evidence is usually intended to negatively cast the character or reliability of an accused, a suspect, or a witness. Information posted on these interactive websites is admissible in court as any other electronic evidence and judges have found such evidence relevant and often convincing.

Social Websites have become a very popular communication media. Users of sites such as Facebook and MySpace often use these sites to communicate with others by posting comments, pictures, videos, and, otherwise, building online networks. Many post their opinions on various matters and disclose incidents and events from their personal lives. While there are various privacy settings that a subscriber of such websites can choose, many decide to have their postings available for viewing by the general public. Moreover, since the material that one posts on his or her Website is freely accessible by persons added as “friends” in the network, there is often nothing that would prevent these “friends” from copying and pasting other’s comments.
It is surprising that individuals accused of crimes place evidence of their criminal behavior or unsociable attitudes on their computers. Based on this trend, prosecutors and defense lawyers are increasingly resorting to the inspection of social websites to obtain incriminating information about accused or suspects who brag about their drinking, drugging, or illegal activities; or who post pictures of themselves engaging in criminal or otherwise compromising activities on the social Websites. In particular, prosecutors are using these postings to provide evidence that a defendant lacks remorse or has engaged in a pattern of behavior either prior to or subsequent to the alleged crime. In a well-known Florida case, a YouTube video threatening police was used to indict some gang members.

What are some other uses of social websites in legal proceedings?
In addition to their utility in criminal cases, compromising postings on social websites may be used in several forums in which it is essential to present evidence about a party’s moral character. One primary area where these postings can come into play is in the context of family law proceedings. Family law practitioners can and have used information posted on social networking sites to impugn the credibility of their client’s spouse. In the US, attorneys in family law proceedings have successfully used sexual comments or recount of sexual encounters posted on MySpace or Facebook by a spouse referring to persons other than his/her spouse.
Compromising social networking postings can also pose potential risks in the employment context. Employers are legally permitted to research the character of potential candidates via information that such candidates post on publicly available social Websites. Compromising posts, and in particular, posts that extol a candidate’s drug or alcohol use or sexual prowess can be used against the applicant for employment.

Another possible use of Facebook or MySpace photographs is in suspect identification by eyewitnesses, as reported by Mark Diebolt, a deputy county attorney in Pima County, Arizona. He noted that such networking sites have been helpful in prosecuting gang-related crimes, since the connections between gang-members and the nature of their activities is often exposed on such sites.

Is information posted on social Websites admissible in court?
Due to the fact that such networking Websites as Facebook and MySpace are relatively new, there are no clear and specific rules discussing the admissibility of such evidence in court. However, in practice, judges have admitted such postings and relied on them in making their judgments provided that they comply wit the US Federal Rules of Evidence. John Palfrey, the executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School has commented that although there have been few decisions to-date discussing the admissibility of such internet postings in court, the judges have nevertheless “indicated that they will treat this information like other electronic evidence.”

In the context of sentencing hearings, it is almost impossible to prevent a court from considering such evidence. This is because the crux of a sentencing hearing is the evaluation of the defendant’s character and a determination of whether the defendant is likely to commit another crime. As a result, in this context, indications of irresponsible, anti-social or criminal behavior that are derived from a defendant’s postings on social networking sites are particularly relevant.

What is an example of such social networking materials being used in court?
In one particular case, a 20-year-old college junior was sentenced to two years in prison based largely on Facebook materials that were presented by the prosecution at his sentencing hearing. The defendant was charged as a result of being involved in a car accident caused by him while intoxicated. The car accident resulted in the serious long-term hospitalization of one of the involved drivers. Two weeks after being charged, this man attended a Halloween party dressed as a prisoner. Pictures taken at the party and posted on Facebook “showed him in a black-and-white striped shirt and an orange jumpsuit labeled "Jail Bird," according to a CNN report. The report also stated that the superior court judge Daniel Procaccini said the prosecutor’s slide show influenced his decision to sentence [the young man]. Although the defendant’s post-accident behavior was not criminal, it nevertheless indicated to the judge that the defendant showed a callous disregard for the gravity of his actions. Based on this evidence, the judge decided to impose a particularly harsh sentence on the defendant.

Links: PublicationsArticle titled “Unrepentant on Facebook? Expect Jail Time”
Links: PublicationsArticle titled “Finding Treasures for Cases on Facebook”Article Link:



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