This week, a Pennsylvania teen made national headlines when he was charged for the murder of a classmate after sending another classmate photo of himself with the body on Snapchat. Despite the Snap disappearing as usual, the recipient took a screenshot of the photograph and turned it over to police, leading to the teen’s arrest. While most people don’t get caught for crimes as serious as murder by using online apps or social media to post pictures with dead bodies, people are charged with other crimes increasingly more often based on online posts.
Just because you think you are being smart about hiding your online activity through privacy settings or disappearing messages like Snapchat, it doesn’t mean you are as safe as you think. A study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police has revealed that over 86 percent of all law enforcement agencies use social media to collect evidence during criminal investigations. Police can get access to your profiles through third-parties who are your “friends” or create a fake profile to target you.
Whether or not you believe you are putting yourself at risk through your online activity, there is a chance that anything you put online can be used against you during a criminal trial. Even if you have not confessed or put such obvious evidence as a confession or picture of your crime online, police can gather evidence from your posts. Location tags can reveal that you were near the location where a crime was committed. Pictures or posts about drinking within the hours before a Cincinnati DUI arrest give probable cause to believe you were intoxicated. Having photos of yourself with arrested gang members or throwing gang signs can get you in trouble for gang-related crimes. Even seemingly innocent actions such as joining a 420 group can be used to build a possession or even drug trafficking case.
Social Media Tips to Keep You Safe While Pending Criminal Charges
Because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for anything you’ve posted online, it is especially important to take extra precautions about what you post online and on social media when you are pending criminal charges. Even if you have not been arrested and feel that there is no reason to fear you will be, these seven tips will help you protect yourself from self-incriminating online activity.
- Never post a photo that alludes to illegal activity. While it should go without saying that posting pictures of obviously illegal actions can get you in trouble, photos that allude to illegal things are just as damaging. For example, if you are underage, pictures of you crowned “beer pong champion” of the night indicate you were drinking even if there isn’t a photo directly of you taking a sip. Similarly, pictures of you showing off your new bong are likely to incriminate you in a possession case.
- Make the privacy settings as restrictive as possible on social media accounts. While there is still no guarantee anything you post will stay private, it can help diminish access by law enforcement.
- Prune your friend list. Just because you have met someone once doesn’t mean you can trust him or her with your personal information. Either screen contacts on social media entirely or use different privacy settings for close trusted friends and normal acquaintances. If you do not know a person who wants to connect, they could be a police officer or prosecutor undercover collecting evidence against you.
- Disable automatic check-ins. So many people now use their phone to connect with apps like Google Maps or Facebook that access your location. If your phone has tracked you near the location of a crime or, worse, shared this information online, police can use it as probable cause.
- Be careful what you associate yourself with. While you have the right to join any association you want online, membership in six drug-related groups doesn’t look good when you are accused of drug charges. Just remember that any person or activity you associate with online can reflect on your own behavior.
- Remember that just because it’s “private” doesn’t mean that it will stay that way. Private messages, texts, and Snaps all are supposed to be private between yourself and the recipient, but that does not mean that no one else will ever seem them. The recipient can show them to a third party at any time. Plus, these records can be subpoenaed sometimes even if both people have since deleted the file.
- Never say anything you wouldn’t want a jury to see in or out of context. Even if something you post isn’t directly illegal, it can be used as evidence of a crime in court. If you think a post could be taken out of context and make you look bad, you should think twice before putting it online. Even a joke can be used against you in court. Always think before you post.
If you have been arrested or think you may be investigated for a crime, social media can be your best friend or worst enemy. Unless you want to be surprised by the way your online posts reflect on you, you should always think twice before posting anything, especially while pending charges. A good defense always includes avoiding post-arrest publicity. If you have been arrested in Ohio and worry that your online activity may be used against you, call Cincinnati criminal lawyer Brad Groene at Luftman, Heck & Associates today for a free consultation on your case. We can be reached at any time at (513) 338-1890. Don’t let anything undermine your case. Get the help of an experienced Cincinnati criminal lawyer today.