Defendants Can’t Gain Access to Private Social Media of Alleged Victims, Court Rules

By: Wallin & Klarich

It is safe to say that most people have an expectationInternet_Social-Media_Computer_Cellphone.jpg of privacy when it comes to sending messages and information on Facebook. Although posts on your wall and comments may be readily available for the public to see, you probably expect the private messages you send to remain private.

So, when you’re the alleged victim of a crime, you probably have the same expectation of privacy. However, this expectation of privacy was recently called into question in a California criminal case.

Defense Lawyers Ask Facebook for Access to Alleged Victim’s Social Media Account

Lance Touchstone is accused of shooting Jeffrey Renteria in Ocean Beach in 2016 and is currently awaiting trial.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Touchstone had been staying in the home that Renteria shared with his girlfriend, Touchstone’s sister. Renteria testified that he arrived home on the day of the alleged incident and found Touchstone on the couch with a gun next to him. Renteria asked Touchstone to leave and Touchstone shot him.

The alleged victim posted frequent updates on Facebook about his recovery and court case. He had also previously posted about his use of guns and drugs, and wrote about wanting to rob and kill people. Touchstone’s lawyers thought this information may be helpful in building his defense, so they subpoenaed Facebook for his posts, private messages, photos and other information.

Facebook asked the court to rescind the subpoena, arguing that it violated the Stored Communications Act and that Touchstone’s lawyers could obtain the information by obtaining a search warrant based on probable cause.
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The defendant’s lawyers stated that his constitutional right to a fair trial overrode the Stored Communications Act and that prosecutors were not cooperating, making it difficult to obtain a warrant.

The court ruled in favor of Touchstone, but Facebook appealed.

Court Rules Defendants Have No Right to Alleged Victim’s Social Media

Recently, a three-judge panel in the 4th District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s decision, ruling that criminal defendants have no right to obtain their alleged victim’s social media communications to help with their defense.

The court reasoned that the Stored Communications Act restricts Facebook and other third party websites from disclosing its users’ information, and no exceptions to this law applied to Touchstone’s case.

This court ruling falls in line with a similar appellate ruling regarding a case in San Francisco. In that case, the appellate court overturned a judge’s ruling to deny a motion to vacate a defendant’s subpoena against Facebook. These rulings prevent anyone accused of a crime from obtaining the private social media of an alleged victim.

However, the California Supreme Court will soon hear arguments regarding an appeal of the San Francisco case.
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Judges in the Touchstone case hope their ruling will influence the higher court’s decision to limit criminal defendants from obtaining private social media information.

What Do You Think About This Court Ruling?

Many people use Facebook as a means of communication and often disclose private information on social networks. Do you think private information should be accessible to someone accused of a crime? Do you think the California Supreme Court should side with Facebook or with the defendant?

We want to hear your thoughts about this controversial topic. Please share your comment in the section below.


Posted In: Criminal Defense
Tagged: criminal defense