Florida Criminal Cases Relying More Frequently on Social Media

It’s probable that the 31-year-old South Miami man would likely have been arrested in connection with the death of his wife, even if he hadn’t uploaded photographs of the gruesome scene on Facebook and attached a public confession.
However, the images posted on the site, as well as private messages his wife sent to a friend just prior to her slaying, have helped prosecutors shore up a strong case against the defendant, who is facing a charge of second-degree murder.

Increasingly, social media and digital communication has become a prime source of information and potential evidence for police and prosecutors. Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers want to make sure all of our potential clients are aware of just how critical it is to refrain from uploading photographs, videos, messages or status updates that might potentially implicate you in a crime. The same goes for text messages, e-mails, Twitter feeds and Instagram photos.

All of these mediums have the “feel” of being at least semi-private. Private messaging features and privacy settings offer a false sense that you have some control over all of those messages or images.

The reality is, these are public forums, and they are designed to increase connectivity among users. Even in cases where your privacy measures are boosted, there is nothing to stop friends from sharing certain screen grabs with friends or friends of friends or detectives – or anyone else.

Even if that doesn’t happen, there is no guarantee that detectives won’t be able to secure a search warrant to scour your account for information that may bolster their case against you.

Such measures have been taken not solely in homicide cases or even just felonies. Similar actions have been known to have been employed even in misdemeanor cases.

Some have been borderline comical, leading to compilations amassed for entertainment value. Some of those have included:
–The 19-year-old alleged burglar who logged into his own Facebook account while inside the dwelling, only to leave his account open before fleeing.
— A convicted sex offender, barred from any contact with underage girls, having dozens of Facebook friends who were underage girls.
— A 16-year-old whose prank to flood the toilets in the public library caused $250,000 in damage was later arrested after he boasted about the actions on Facebook.
— A New York gang member whose friends agreed to share images of the man, suspected of murder, flashing gang signs, as well as private posts referencing past violent actions and threats.
— A man convicted of stalking after authorities discovered some two years’ worth of harassing messages and posts directed toward and about a woman who refused to go out with him.

A number of courts have previously ruled that social media users have little expectation of privacy, even when communicating via private messages. Once we transmit those messages, they become the property of the recipient, to do as they wish. There has also been nothing stopping authorities from creating phony online identities to “friend” suspects and glean information.

A recent survey of nearly 1,300 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies who use social media revealed that four out of five used it to gather intelligence for criminal investigations.

Of course, defense attorneys aren’t exempt from tapping into this resource as well. For example, in the Miami murder case, there have been reports that numerous messages and notes pertaining to the couple’s stormy relationship have been obtained. A number of those communications appear to signal aggression on the parts of both individuals, with the wife on one occasion saying she wanted to “rip his eyes out” and “explode.” In one missive, she even calls herself an “insane woman” when it comes to her relationship.

It is on this basis that defense lawyers may have some grounds on which to argue self-defense.

The case illustrates how even some of our most private thoughts and interactions have so easily become subjects of public fodder – and how quickly it can turn into evidence to be used against us.

A good general rule is to always assume that such communications have the potential to become public. Be mindful of who you “friend” on your social network sites. And if you are arrested in South Florida, contact an experienced legal defense firm as soon as possible.

If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
Facebook messages detail fight before fatal shooting, Oct. 1, 2013, By Evan S. Benn, The Miami Herald
More Blog Entries:
Florida Felony Convictions: Incentives to Keep Sentences High, Sept. 28, 2013, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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