The pervasive use of social media is helping police and prosecutors charge people with crimes more easily - with significant consequences for people who are facing charges.
No longer for just the technically savvy, social media is ubiquitous and helps police find information and witnesses that used to stay hidden. With a quick computer search, police can access Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other sites, and the often find information key to a case. Usually with a warrant, they can download and review cell phone data, even items that have been deleted.
What You Say On Social Media Can Be Used Against You
A 2016 national survey conducted by the Urban Institute and jointly published with the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that of the more than 500 responding law enforcement agencies, a whopping 96 percent use social media to notify the public of safety concerns.
Before you post anything, it’s important to know how police use social media. They can:
- Find new evidence
- Discover incriminating posts such as photographs and messages
- Determine a suspect’s whereabouts before and after the crime via cell phone location information
- Locate other suspects or witnesses
You should also know that your postings may not be as private as you think. Prosecutors can also issue a summons to have your social media writings preserved – so even if you delete your accounts, your website provider has a record of what you posted. And they will turn it all over to the police.
Understanding your legal rights
In short: if you are charged with a crime, you must resist the urge to talk about it on social media. If you don’t, then as the saying goes, anything you say can be used against you in court.
But police first have to prove that they have probable cause that a crime was committed and that the suspect may be linked to the crime. That’s because the United States Supreme Court ruled in June that the public still has a right of privacy when it comes to their cell phones. So, police must get a search warrant first to access that information. (Exceptions apply in the case of emergencies such as an active shooting.) Your attorney may be able to challenge whether the police had probable cause and get the evidence thrown out.
If you are under investigation or have been charged with a crime, it’s best to remain silent - on social media and otherwise - and contact an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney.