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What prosecutors look for on a defendant’s social media accounts

On Behalf of | Feb 28, 2024 | Criminal Law |

Nowadays, social media platforms generally serve as extensions of people’s personal and public lives, cataloging the thoughts, activities and interactions of individuals of virtually all ages. Most of the time, this kind of engagement can help people to connect, demonstrate self-expression and participate in community life in ways that can be beneficial.

However, for defendants in criminal cases, it’s essential to understand that prosecutors may comb through their social media accounts as part of their investigations. And, depending on what they find, evidence rooted in social media activity can come back to bite a defendant.

What can social media yield to the prosecution?

Social media can offer a treasure trove of information that could be used to establish motives, behaviors, associations and even contradict statements made during a case. 

Prosecutors may look for direct evidence of a crime or information that can be linked to criminal activity on social media accounts. This could include photos, videos or posts depicting illegal activities, such as drug use, theft or any form of violence. Even seemingly innocent posts can be incriminating if they place the defendant at a specific location related to the crime or show possession of stolen items or illegal substances.

Yet, this is not where prosecutorial “digging” is likely to end. For example, prosecutors may meticulously comb through social media for any content that contradicts a defendant’s statements to law enforcement or in court. For example, if a defendant claims not to know a particular individual but is tagged in photos with them, this could undermine their credibility. 

Additionally, social media can paint a vivid picture of a person’s character, lifestyle and behavior patterns. Prosecutors might look for posts that suggest a propensity for violence, recklessness or other traits relevant to the case. For instance, posts showing what could be considered reckless driving could be relevant in a DUI case or aggressive comments could be pertinent in cases involving violent crimes.

Given the kinds of information that can be gleaned from social media, defendants should avoid social media until their cases have been resolved. If someone cannot stay off social media, perhaps for employment reasons, it’s vitally important to be thoughtful about posting and responding to content if they are under investigation or are facing charges.