Social Media and Self Incrimination

Most of us know the mild embarrassment that follows a poorly thought out social media post. But a growing number of people in Minnesota and throughout the United States are facing criminal trouble due to ill-advised posts, pictures and videos posted online.

When posts become court evidence

A post to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms can provide police with evidence of drinking, drug use, stolen materials, gang affiliation and even just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Here are three times social media activity resulted in harsh criminal consequences for those who posted (and others caught in the camera's eye):

  • In Bartow, Florida, a woman used the social media app Periscope to live-stream a video of herself driving and getting lost on public highways. The problem was, she was not only lost but also drunk driving and admitted as much on the live broadcast. Concerned viewers called 911 and the woman was promptly arrested and charged with DUI.
  • In Wildwood, New Jersey, three teens were charged with criminal mischief after posting videos of themselves engaging in "gallon smashing," a trend in which pranksters smash gallons of milk on supermarket floors and pretend to slip and fall.
  • In Gainesville, Georgia, six people created a video of themselves displaying illegal drugs and firearms using the social media app Snapchat. After being shown the video by a concerned citizen, police were able to locate the six suspects and positively identify them as the people in the video.

These are rather extreme examples, but even more commonplace social media activities can prove pivotal in a criminal case. A picture of someone holding a beer can, a video of a fight, "checking in" to a bar on the night of a DWI arrest - posts such as these can haunt criminal defendants for years. Remember, the internet has no delete button. Even if you take a post down, it still lives on somewhere and anyone who saw it could have captured it with their own device.

For all their concerns over self incrimination, it's doubtful our nation's founders foresaw "selfies," Tweets and Snapchat when drafting and ratifying the Bill of Rights. Most people know they have the right to remain silent. Don't give prosecutors additional ammunition by posting anything on social media that can be used against you in court.

When in doubt, don't post. And always talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney at the earliest sign of trouble.

Jeffrey Ring