Vice recently published a story on a drug dealer who, despite telling police he had little to no income, posted pictures to his Instagram account of him literally bathing in money, wearing expensive jewelry and driving flashy cars. Soon after, he was arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison for drug dealing. This is not the first criminal who was caught and sentenced using information from their social media accounts.
Around this time last year, a vlogger livestreamed her drunk driving experience on her own Periscope account. She recounted how many drinks she had, how drunk she was and that she was lost while using her phone to record the incident. Her own viewers called the police, who quickly tracked down the car and arrested the vlogger.
Is It Legal to Use My Social Media Accounts Against Me?
While posting status updates detailing your life events and feelings may seem harmless, social media posts can and will be used as evidence in criminal cases. While social media is a relatively new addition to the legal system, online posts have damaged and destroyed criminal defendant cases and even lead to jail time.
Most of the time, a court will see social media as a discovery of evidence because everything posted, shared or even privately messaged on social media has no reasonable expectation of privacy. This means anything you put on social media, you intend for others to see.
Additionally, any piece of a social media account that is publicly available can be used to prove that more relevant information exists on other private social media accounts. This means social media evidence can be directly accessed by an attorney during the discovery process or via subpoena.
What Should I Do With My Social Media Accounts During a Criminal Case?
If you’ve been charged with a crime, you may be tempted to delete your social media accounts. However, sometimes that can do more harm than good for your case. You may be given additional charges if you did delete your accounts, which at that point, may be considered evidence. Moreover, deleting your accounts may not even benefit you given that nothing really disappears once it’s been posted to the internet. Very rarely, social media has even been used to exonerate a criminal suspect.
Your best bet is to cease all social media activity and consult with a criminal defense attorney to determine what changes, if any, you should make to your social media accounts if you have been arrested and/or charged with a crime.
Mike Goolsby at the Goolsby Law Firm is a former district attorney and has an in-depth understanding of the Texas criminal justice system. We haven’t lost a case in more than 15 years and we don’t intend to start now.