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Social Media and Self-Incrimination

Derek Medina, the man dubbed The Facebook Killer for posting an alleged confession coupled with photos of his dead wife, pled not guilty to murder charges at the end of August. Medina was charged with second degree murder based in part on his Facebook postings.

The use of social media has exploded in modern American society. As useful a tool as it is for social networking, it is also a huge aid to law enforcement investigators. People have the right to remain silent and not incriminate themselves — but it is astounding how many individuals, like Derek Medina, forget this and post information that helps law enforcement officials prove the charges against them. For example:

  • Homicides — Investigators have used cellphone towers to track suspects who busily chatted or texted while en route to or from their crimes. They’ve also used cell tower records to place suspects near a crime.
  • Gang membership — Suspicion of gang membership has been proved repeatedly by diligent law enforcement officials scrutinizing  gang members’ Facebook pages.
  • Alibi claims — Facebook posts tagging a suspect’s location have defeated an alibi claim.

Facebook, or any other social media spot such as MySpace or Twitter, is a public forum. While you might try to circumscribe your social media pages to permit only “friends” to access them, you should have no expectation of privacy.

The U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protects against government intrusion into those items in which citizens should have a reasonable expectation of privacy — letters, diaries, homes, cars, purses and other personal items. With a social media posting, you forfeit any reasonable expectation of privacy, so the government is free to use any information obtained against you. Even if there is nothing blatantly criminal on your social media page, some postings might provide law enforcement officers with enough probable cause to seek a search warrant to seize and search your computer and smart phone.

If you or someone you know is under investigation for a crime, and you have concerns about what law enforcement can and cannot access, consult today with reliable, experienced Berks County criminal defense counsel who can advise you of your best options.

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