Top 5 Ways Social Media Is Used as Criminal Evidence

Posted On: October 29th, 2015 by Bradley J. Groene

Almost everyone is on social media these days. We use it to communicate with friends, share information, and simply keep up with current events. For the most part, our social media activities are harmless, but if we aren’t careful, they can be used against us. At best, our social media posts may simply be used to embarrass us down the road. At worst, they can be used by law enforcement as criminal evidence.

While it’s easy to forget just how public our activities on social media are, the reality is that someone is always watching—and not always the people we think. No matter how private you think your settings are, law enforcement can access your posts and interpret the activity as it sees fit. Social media can be used by law enforcement as criminal evidence, even relatively innocent posts. An article posted in favor of legalization of marijuana can be used as evidence of illegal drug use. A video of you doing karate could be used to show evidence of deadly force in an assault case. Even simple association with criminals via social networking sites like Facebook can be used as evidence in a criminal conspiracy case.

Top 5 Ways Social Media Is Used as Criminal Evidence

Because of the wealth of information available on social media, law enforcement uses social media as criminal evidence in almost 87% of cases nowadays. The ways it can be used ranges drastically, but there are five common ways that law enforcement most commonly employs social media as criminal evidence.

  1. Direct evidence of criminal action: This is the way that people most commonly think about “dumb criminals” getting in trouble with social media. Perhaps the defendant posted a picture of themselves with the weapon used in a crime or the stolen items from a robbery. In one case, a defendant even allegedly posted a picture of themselves with the body of the person they had murdered.

  2. Proximity to the location of a crime: Now that social media is often linked with our phone’s GPS, it is often easy for law enforcement to prove that the accused was near where the crime was committed at the time when it occurred. Sometimes these location tags may even be accidental or unknown to the defendant, but they can still be used to build probable cause.

  3. Criminal intent / mindset: Often, people post on social media about their emotions. This can be used by police as evidence of criminal intent or a mindset of someone about to commit a crime. For example, derogatory, angry, and especially violent comments about a victim is often used to establish the guilt of those accused of committing the actions.

  4. Association with known criminals: Often, your social network is used to give away any potential association with known criminals. If you are Facebook friends with a bunch of gang members, for example, law enforcement can use it as evidence that you too are involved with the gang. No matter how well you may actually know the “criminal elements” in your network, it can be used in a trial.

  5. Circumstantial social media evidence: This type of evidence is less obvious, but often the most common. Any evidence that you have been open to a crime or under the right conditions to commit it can be used as circumstantial evidence of a crime. For example, someone accused of a DUI may find Instagram pictures of their presence at a bar the same night appearing as evidence during a trial. A person in groups related to drug use or legalization is going to be questioned about this activity during a possession or distribution case. In fact, any evidence even remotely related to the crime at hand can come up during a trial—a large part of why social media as criminal evidence can be so damaging.

As you can see, any use of social media can potentially get you in trouble with law enforcement during a criminal trial. Obviously, it is important to be smart about what you decide to post, but it is also vital that you get the support of an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands how social media is used in criminal investigations and can best defend you against potential attacks. If you have been arrested for any crime, call the dedicated Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky criminal defense attorneys at Luftman, Heck, and Associates right away at (513) 338-1890 to set up a free consultation on your case. We will explore your social media activity, find any potential weaknesses, and most importantly, never stop fighting for you until we get the optimal outcome for your case.