As criminal defense attorneys in Washington D.C. and throughout the State of Maryland, we see the incriminating effects of social media use every day. Whether the information obtained through these accounts surfaces during an investigation or are directly presented as evidence in a case — prosecutors’ offices throughout the United States are using social media as a case-building tool.
How Is Social Media Being Used to Build Criminal Cases?
Social media, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were all designed to encourage individuals to share the details of their lives in an open and public format. Everything from where they are dining to who they are with is often displayed for the rest of the world to see — no matter how tightly their privacy settings are kept.
These posts and updates display seemingly harmless elements that can be used to track individuals who are suspected of criminal activity, simply by viewing their account.
Police and prosecutors are scouring social media accounts to uncover:
- Incriminating images, including details regarding clothing, shoes, and accessories worn by those pictured on certain days
- Identities of persons of interests in an investigation
- Identities of associates of the person of interest
- Photos of friends or groups together, tying suspects to each other personally on certain days or during certain times
- Images of cash, drugs, or guns that can lead back to a crime
- Messages that may include rants, motives, or statements that can be tied to a crime that has been or will be committed
- Contact information or personal details displayed in profiles
- Location information that may place a suspect near a crime scene, at the time it occurred
- Information that can be established as a probable cause for a search warrant
A single detail was recovered by police in the case of a murdered girl who had posted a photo of herself and a friend the same day she was killed. While the friend assured the police she had no knowledge of the crime, it was determined that the same belt she was wearing in the Facebook photo, posted just hours before the murder occurred, was found at the crime scene. She was arrested and charged immediately.
Is It Legal for the Police or Prosecutors to View My Social Media Profile?
According to the latest statistics, 77% of all Americans have at least one social media profile. And, since these sites offer public, unrestricted access to their users’ information — assuming the profile has not been made private — anyone, including law enforcement officials, can legally see and obtain the information that is in plain view.
Even if your profile is private, law enforcement officials can send a request to the site and ask for the details of your account. And when that is not enough, they can request a subpoena to review your online records in full.
What If I Am Called in For Questioning Because of Something I Posted on Social Media?
If you have posted anything incriminating online, especially something illegal, deleting it does not make it disappear. Once you post something on the internet, it will stay forever — even if you take it down immediately.
If you are being questioned by law enforcement officials for any reason, contact our criminal defense attorneys in Washington D.C. and throughout the State of Maryland at Lotze Mosley, LLP today at (202) 393-0535 to ensure your rights are fully protected. If they already have evidence they can use against you, formal charges cannot be too far behind. Protect yourself right away by calling our office now.