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How Social Media Can Hurt a Criminal Defense

Just about everyone uses social media today, Facebook and Twitter in particular. That’s true for criminal defendants too, and police know it. That makes social media a major tool in the prosecutorial toolbox, and anyone suspected or charged with a crime needs to take immediate precaution where social media is concerned.

The relationship between social media and criminal defense is a tricky one. More often than not, suspects’ social platforms only work against them. It’s easy to make a mistake, and the privacy settings you think are protecting you usually aren’t.

As a Denver defense firm, social media strategy is one of the first things we review with clients. That’s because we know the other side has already started snooping around or will otherwise begin to do so soon. In fact, the authorities often begin to pry into people’s social media activity long before the targets know they’re suspects in an investigation. Indeed, charges are sometimes brought because of what law enforcement finds on social media.

Incredibly, many defendants could have avoided prosecution or conviction had they refrained from using social media or behaved more cautiously on public platforms.

As a general rule, whether you’ve been charged with a crime or not, you should always apply maximal privacy settings. It’s also a good idea to reject any “friend requests,” “follows,” or “connections” from people you don’t know.

Of course, those are all basic tenets of common-sense social media — advice that applies to everyone online. If you’re under investigation for a crime, there’s a lot more you need to know about social media and criminal defense.

Your Social Media Accounts Aren’t Private, Even If You Think They Are

Police officers and prosecutors routinely search social media sites during criminal investigations. In fact, it’s one of their first steps, and they are very good at it. You may have heard your friends brag about their “Facebook stalking skills,” but they have nothing on the power and ability of police.

Privacy settings do very little, if anything, to protect you. Privacy settings on sites like Facebook are unreliable to begin with, as it’s hard to know with certainty what another account can view, given sufficient mutual contacts or interests within a network. Those sites also continually modify their privacy policies and settings, often quietly and without users’ notice.

More to the point, nearly all the major players in the social media industry cooperate with police on a regular basis. If investigators or prosecutors want to see the details of your Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram account (as examples), they merely need to ask those companies for their cooperation. Most of them are all too happy to turn over your supposedly private information.

Beware: social media creates a false sense of security.

Anything you say or do on social media may be used against you in a criminal prosecution. Never assume anything is private. Proceed with caution.

What Do Police and Prosecutors Look For?

Even seemingly innocent content can be used as evidence against you in a criminal proceeding. Police and prosecutors scour suspects’ social media accounts to look for the following:

  • Location tags that put users in a specific place at a specific time
  • Incriminating videos, photographs, posts, tags, or other suspicious content
  • Statements or images that contradict an alibi
  • Anything that might undermine statements you made at a different time during the investigation
  • Information about your activities and whereabouts before, during, and after an alleged crime
  • Potential witnesses
  • Potential accomplices
  • Conversation histories, where available
  • Evidence of other unrelated crimes that they can charge in addition to the underlying allegations

Deleting the Alleged Evidence

Second-guessing some of the content on your social media page now that you’ve read about the perils? Tempted to delete it? That may or may not be a good idea, depending on the circumstances of your situation and whether you’ve been formally identified as a suspect.

If you’ve already been contacted by law enforcement or charged with a crime, you should consult with an experienced Denver defense attorney before making any changes to your social media accounts. In some cases, deleting alleged evidence may result in additional criminal charges.

If you aren’t a suspect and haven’t been charged, it’s a good idea to talk with a defense lawyer about what kinds of content you might be able to delete to prevent law enforcement from using it against you unfairly.

Ultimately, you should remember that it is sometimes impossible to completely “erase” what you’ve posted online. Even if you thoroughly expunge your account, the Internet is well cached, and it is often possible for experts to uncover deleted material. The companies themselves may also be able to recover content you’ve removed. Many police departments also employ forensic computer experts who can find records of deleted activity on your computer or mobile devices.

Can Social Media Ever Help?

Very rarely, a social media post made in the past can actually help or even exonerate a suspect. Imagine, for example, that you were accused of a murder in a specific place at a specific time, but your social media activity on that day clearly shows that you could not have committed the crime as alleged. In that case, social media could prove to be a saving grace.

Unfortunately, that’s the exception to the rule. Social media hurts the criminally accused far more often than it helps them, so you should exercise the utmost caution. Remember: social media and criminal defense do not mix.

Do I Have to Stop Using Social Media Once I’m Charged with a Crime?

Wolf Law is a modern law firm. The defense attorneys at Wolf Law understand that social media is as natural a part of the human experience today as speech has been for millennia. He also knows that criminal investigations and prosecutions can drag on for a very long time, and suspects are eager to enjoy life as much as possible in the meantime. However, your liberty and chances for victory are infinitely more important than your social media accounts.

The attorneys at Wolf Law will work with you to determine exactly what kinds of social activities, if any, might be permissible during your trial. Please know that Wolf Law will work very hard in fighting for your freedom, and we will always advise you to give prosecutors as little ammunition as possible. You should never use social media or technology outside of your defense attorney’s knowledge or advice.

An Attorney Who Understands Social Media and Criminal Defense

At Wolf Law, we have extensive experience in handling countless criminal cases in Colorado, ranging from petty offenses to serious drug charges, felonies, and more. We understand that today’s latest technology plays an integral role in criminal cases, and we see it as part of our job to stay abreast of all the latest changes and trends in social media. You can count on us in even the most complex cases.

We’re a firm that prides itself on the excellent and compassionate representation we offer. We know that anyone can make a mistake. You do not deserve to pay for it for the rest of your life. In our office, you will find an impassioned advocate for your freedom and your quality of life.

Remember: from the moment you become a suspect, everything you say and do matters. Time matters, too. The sooner you hire an attorney, the better. If you need an experienced Denver defense attorney, please contact Wolf Law for a free consultation right away.