A California Appeals Court recently ruled that a criminal defendant’s right to social media information is outweighed by and protected under Federal Privacy laws.1
Two defendants facing murder charges subpoenaed account information from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in an effort to help their defense. The defendants claimed that social media postings from the alleged victims and a prosecution witness would show bias and a motive to lie about their involvement in the murder
Despite this information being highly relevant to their defense, the Court ruled that it would not be available to them or any criminal defendant similarly situated before trial.
Court of Appeals Ruling Explained
The Stored Communications Act protects your personal information online and formed the basis for the Court’s decision. However, this decades-old law clearly did not contemplate modern day technology and the cultural shift where many people voluntarily choose to publicize their lives on social media sites.
Opponents of the decision point out that social media companies must turn over this information when requested by government authorities with a warrant. Facebook and other social networking sites could choose to turn over the information voluntarily, but they are not required to do so under subpoena. The court dismissed the argument that restricting the defendants’ access to this information would infringe the defendants’ constitutional right to a fair trial.
Possible Effect on Criminal Cases
This ruling gives the prosecution an advantage because it restricts defense attorneys’ ability to prepare a defense ahead of time. It also gives the prosecution the only set of keys to an enormous location of potential evidence.
Under Brady, the prosecution must disclose and turn over any evidence to the defense that is favorable to the defendant’s case. However, this does not apply to private companies, and so if the prosecution never requests these records, these companies are the gatekeepers to possible exculpatory evidence when one’s social accounts have been deleted.
Call the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, you need to contact an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney immediately. Wallin & Klarich has been successfully defending clients facing criminal charges for over 30 years. Our skilled attorneys understand how to use evidence such as social media postings to help you achieve the best possible result in your case.
With offices located in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.