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How Social Media Impacts Criminal Cases

On behalf of Randall & Stump, PLLC in Criminal Defense on Thursday, April 18, 2024

How Social Media Impacts Criminal Cases

The line between social media and criminal cases has thinned to the point where social media posts are now easily admissible evidence in courtrooms. People leave self-incriminating posts all over the internet on Twitter/X, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, TikTok, and more. Consequently, if you are charged with a crime in North Carolina, prosecutors can comb through your social media profiles to find those incriminating posts.

As a result, it is imperative that you are cautious about what you post online, especially when you are involved in a criminal case. More importantly, you should have a dedicated criminal defense attorney by your side.

Can Social Media Posts Be Used as Evidence?

Yes. According to the North Carolina Evidence Code, Rule 402, all relevant evidence is generally admissible except otherwise provided by the Constitution. Hence, state agents can present your online posts as evidence in court if they deem it relevant.

Interestingly, despite the promises of user privacy and data protection by most online platforms, law enforcement can request and access your posts and interactions on most platforms even when they are set to “private.” For them, this is necessary, as the burden of proof is on them; they have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you are guilty.

How Social Media Can Hurt Your Criminal Case

In State of North Carolina v. Antonio Delontay Ford (No. COA15-75), the trial court admitted and used a rap song and screenshots from the defendant’s MySpace page to prosecute him. The social media posts provided evidence that the defendant was aware that his dog was aggressive and had attacked and killed an individual unprovoked.

Similarly, in United States v. Farrad, the defendant was a felon prohibited from possessing firearms. However, concerned citizens reported seeing him with firearms. A state police officer obtained a warrant to access his Facebook page. Consequently, he was charged to court and quickly prosecuted based on screenshots of his Facebook posts, which contained photos of him with firearms. The screenshots were the only evidence used in the trial.

In both cases, the defendants argued the admissibility and the authenticity of the incriminating social media posts. Still, the prosecutors and the courts authenticated and maintained them as solid evidence for their conviction.

Impact on Your Credibility

In the case studies above, the defendants practically provided evidence and bore witness against themselves. In U.S. v. Farrad, prosecutors didn’t even bother to invite citizens who laid complaints against him to the witness stand.

So, a defendant’s online profile is sometimes the first port of call for investigators looking for self-incriminating evidence. After all, it is trickier for a defendant to maintain credibility when the evidence against them is self-incriminating.

Social Media and Criminal Cases: Online Reputation Management for Defendants

Typically, a great counsel would be that you should be very cautious of what you post online, whether you are involved in a criminal investigation or not. This means protecting your online presence during a criminal investigation is even more critical. However, what should you do if you have already made the mistake?

Should I Delete My Social Media After an Arrest?

In a state of panic, your initial instinct might be to quickly delete all incriminating social media posts or deactivate your account. Unfortunately, the court perceives such actions as destroying evidence, probably adding another layer of charges to your criminal case.

Moreover, deleted posts are often recoverable. For instance, Facebook can store some deleted posts in their database until you permanently delete your account. Also, it could take Facebook up to 90 days to permanently remove your data from their servers when you delete your account.

Whatever the scenario, investigators have enough time to retrieve whatever you deleted and present it as evidence.

What not to Post on Social Media After an Arrest

Avoid discussing your criminal case online. Your posts may further incriminate you or threaten your legal position, making your defense more difficult.

Additionally, posts that involve bragging and controversial opinions that are deemed relevant, even if they are not directly linked to the prevailing conditions of your criminal case, can be presented as evidence in court. In NC v. Ford, the defendant argued that the racial epithets and profanities in his rap song found on his MySpace could influence jurors’ bias. Still, the court played the song for jurors from start to finish.

Consult With Your Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are involved in legal troubles, and you’re not sure if it crosses the intersection of social media and criminal cases, you consult with a criminal defense lawyer for social media cases immediately. With in-depth knowledge of the state’s evidence code, your lawyer will help you navigate the legal complexities of avoiding, dismissing, or appealing criminal charges based on social media evidence.

Contact Randall & Stump, PLLC, for Your NC Social Media Criminal Defense

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges that involve social media evidence in Charlotte, NC, you need Randall and Stump PLLC on your case from the onset.

We have years of experience assertively challenging unsubstantial evidence and winning cases in NC courtrooms. More importantly, we are familiar with the techniques of local prosecutors and judges in NC and know how to navigate them to dismiss charges and obtain the best judgments.

Call us today at (980) 237-4579 or use our online contact form to schedule a consultation.