Most people use social media sites to stay in touch with family and friends, join groups of like-minded people, and to find out what's going on in the world. And for most people, most of the time, using social media is perfectly harmless. However, what used to be a fun way to share pictures and jokes with your friends and acquaintances can become evidence against you if you have been charged with a crime like Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). In Texas, the information you post or that is posted about you can be used against you to hurt your criminal case.
Don't Incriminate Yourself
Even if you haven't been charged with a crime, it's a good idea to not share information about yourself or potentially incriminating photos on social media. But, if you have been charged with a crime like DWI, it's especially important that you carefully consider everything you post online and that you monitor any photos friends share of you on their social media accounts.
Many people have been charged with serious crimes after posting information on social media that prosecutors were able to use against them. Live-tweeting your night out drinking, or Instagramming each stop on your pub crawl is generally not a good idea. It can hurt your professional image, or provide evidence against you should you be arrested on your way home.
You also shouldn't comment about your criminal charges or anything related to the charges on your social media accounts. Criminal investigators routinely search social media platforms to get information about defendants. Anything you post could potentially be used against you.
Here's how: If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Texas, investigators can look at your social media accounts to find evidence to use against you. Prosecutors can use your social media posts or posts that you have been tagged in to establish a timeline of events. If you posted pictures of you and some friends taking shots of tequila at midnight and then you were pulled over by police officers while driving at 1 a.m., prosecutors can use the photos to prove that you had been drinking before you got behind the wheel.
Think this advice sounds extreme? Consider this: A Florida woman's Twitter account helped prosecutors secure her conviction on two counts of DUI Manslaughter. Before being in a head-on collision that resulted in the deaths of two people, the woman had posted a tweet that read, “2 drunk 2 care.” Prosecutors also used other posts from the woman's Twitter account as evidence in which she repeatedly wrote about getting drunk and smoking marijuana.
Investigators are Looking for Information
Law enforcement officers and prosecutors have learned that social media accounts are treasure troves for evidence. They are just as familiar with social media as the tech savviest young person. When two teenagers were famously charged with rape in Steubenville, Ohio, prosecutors and law enforcement officers examined thousands of posts and reconstructed a timeline of events based on what the teens posted on social media, both during and after the rape.
When you have been charged with DWI, investigators and prosecutors can search your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and other social media accounts, to look for evidence to use against you. Even posts that your friends and family members make can lead to incriminating evidence.
What if You Already Posted Something Incriminating?
Investigators and prosecutors can search your posts and shares for anything related to your DWI arrest. They can also discover posts and photos made by someone else that you were tagged in, especially if the photo shows you consuming alcohol shortly before your arrest. Even if you haven't posted anything about drinking alcohol before your arrest, investigators can use your posts to find out where you were and to establish a timeline, especially if you checked in on a social media site while at a bar or other location. Even deleting potentially incriminating posts may not be enough to protect you. Investigators can potentiallyretrieve the deleted posts and maybe view deleting them as your attempt to destroy evidence, which can hurt your defense even more.
If you have already posted potentially incriminating photos or statements on social media and are worried about the impact they could have on your DWI case, you need to hire an experienced Texas DWI attorney right away. Even if there is social media evidence against, your attorney can help you mount a strong defense, so that you will get the best outcome possible.
Using Privacy Settings Isn't Good Enough
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people against unlawful searches, but does it apply to posts made on social media? This area of the law is still developing and it hinges on whether individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy while using social media.
On Facebook, it's possible to make some posts visible to just friends, or even to a set group of friends. If you post incriminating photos or statements but limit who can see it, can you argue that police should not have access to your posts? Maybe. But if you have a large number of Facebook “friends” whom you don't know, the prosecution may be able to argue that you did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. If you vent about the details of your DWI arrest or case, even if you do so only to friends, prosecutors might be able to access that information. There have even been reports of law enforcement officers creating fictitious accounts to “friend” someone on Facebook just to gain access to their posts.
Should You Delete Posts, or Even Your Whole Account?
Ifyou've been arrested and you know that there are pictures and posts on social media that could be used against you, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the damage.
First, set your privacy settings on all your social media accounts to the highest level of privacy possible and do not accept any friend requests from anyone you don't know. Go through photos that friends have posted of you and untag yourself, even in photos that don't show drinking or any compromising behavior. Investigators sometimes use tagged photos to help discover possible witnesses. Don't make their jobs easy.
Next, stop posting to your accounts. It may be hard to resist the urge, but this is a time in your life when you should just stay quiet. It is especially unwise to post anything anywhere online about your case.
It is also a good idea to avoid emailing or texting about your case with anyone but your attorney. Once you have sent an e-mail or a text, you have no control over what is done with it. It is better to avoid discussing it in writing, even with people you trust.
Do not post anything on social media or anywhere online about programs you are required to complete as part of your case, such as participating in an alcohol or drug rehab program or abstaining from drinking alcohol. Ask your friends to not post any photos or comments about you or the programs you are attending, as well.
Although you may be tempted to just delete your social media accounts or delete any incriminating photos or posts from social media, you should talk to your attorney before you do so. Deleting the photos and posts, or deleting your entire account, could harm your case, too.
A Good Defense in Social Media World
One reason social media content can be so damaging is that it is so easy for anyone to find and use. Even setting your privacy settings high is not enough to prevent nearly anyone from searching your name and finding out a lot of information about you, including what you have been doing.
When you share a lot about yourself on social media, it can be difficult for your lawyer to argue that your privacy has been violated and that the incriminating information should be kept out of court. The safest advice is to just stay off social media and not share details of the fun times you have with family and friends, but that's not always realistic in an increasingly connected world.
It is critically important that you discuss all of these issues with your DWI attorney. Your lawyer needs to know what information is out there on social media about you to provide the best defense in your case. Sometimes social media posts can even work in your favor. If there is information that can be used in your defense, your lawyer can examine the evidence and consider the best ways to bring it into your case.
Each DWI case is unique, that's why you need to find an attorney who knows how to defend you and how to help you avoid having your social media account used against you. A DWI conviction serious and can impact many aspects of your life for years to come. You need to hire someone who knows how to help you like a Board Certified DWI lawyer.
If you have questions about how to handle your DWI arrest or case, contact Board Certified DWI Attorney Doug Murphy today at 713-229-8333.