Social Networking and the Law

Social Networking and the Law

Recentlya 19 year old boy was saved from being wrongfully convicted of a crimehe didn't commit, by a very unlikely source - Facebook.  In fact as thestory goes, Rodney Bradford updated his Facebookpage, at 11:49 a.m. on Oct. 17. The words were typed from a computer inhis father’s apartment in Harlem. The next day, Mr. Bradford wasarrested as a suspect in a robbery at the Farragut Houses in Brooklyn,where he lives.

Thatsimple Facebook update became something more.  It became Mr. Bradford'salibi.  After discussing the Facebook update with Mr. Bradford'sdefense attorney, Robert Reuland, the prosecutor verified theinformation and the charges were dropped.  Mr. Reuland admits that theposting could have come from someone other than Mr. Bradford, but “Thisimplies a level of criminal genius that you would not expect from ayoung boy like this; he is not Dr. Evil.”  It also appears that therewere other witnesses to support the alibi.

This appears to be one of the first cases where a social networking site has been used to helpa defendant.  In most cases information posted on these socialnetworking sites is used against the defendant.  Although we hope thatthere will be more cases like this.  The chances seem slim.  Just asthe Miranda warnings let you know that anything you say can and will be used against you, things that you post online can also be used against you, and likely will be.

Here are a few examples of some prior social networking blunders, and how they were used against the defendant.
  • In Santa Barbara, CA, 2007, Jessica Binkerd was driving under the influence the resulting car crash killed her passenger.  She and her defense attorney were hoping for probation. The prosecutor produced photos from Jessica’s MySpace page showing her partying with friends and wearing an outfit with a liquor company’s T-shirt and bandoleers of shot glasses.  The judge was convinced that she had shown no remorse for the tragedy and sentenced her to 5 years and 4 months in prison.
  • In Santa Barbara, CA, 2007, Jessica's incident was followed closely by Laura Buys, in a near identical case. Where a picture of her drinking wine and posting drinking stories resulted in convincing the judge that she also had no remorse.  She was sentenced to 5 years.
  • In Martinsburg, Pa., Jonathan Parker, 19, was charged with one count of felony daytime burglary.  In this, slightly more interesting case.  Mr. Parker apparently paused while in the house to stop and check his Facebook account while on the victim's computer.  Unfortunately, he forgot to log out before leaving the house. 
Even if your not talking about the crime, these social networking sites can lead to bad character evidence in some situations.

  • In Ind., Defendant Ian Clark was found guilty of murdering a two year old girl.  In support of the prosecutions claim that Mr. Clark committed the crime, evidence was introduced of his self statement on MySpace. "Society labels me as an outlaw and criminal and sees more and more everyday how many of the people, while growing up, and those who judge me, are dishonest and dishonorable.  Note, in one aspect I'm glad to say I have helped you people in my past who have done something and achieved on the other hand, I'm sad to see so many people who have nowhere.  To those people I say, if I can do it and get away. B ... sh.... And with all my obstacles, why the f ... can't you."  Although he appealed, the courts found that the character evidence was admissible.
Inconclusion, it's important to keep in mind that anything you postonline can probably be obtained by the state, and may be used againstyou.  Keeping your profile set to private does not protect you fromhaving the information used against you.  

Thanks, and be safe with your posts.

-Landon Ascheman


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