Watch What You Post: Cops Increasingly Look for Facebook Evidence

Facebook and other social media have become deeply ingrained in the lives of young people. With teenagers hungry for the attention of their peers, posting pictures, videos and other types of content that feature outrageous behavior, drugs, bongs and other paraphernalia, weapons, and gang signs can be an irresistible temptation. But, far too often, teens fail to recognize that on Facebook, the word "friend" is a fluid concept, and whatever ends up online can have a real impact on their future. These things can become evidence against you in a criminal prosecution and show up in an employment background search.

Charges Based On Facebook Content Rampant, Courts Shrug At Lack of Privacy

In one recent high profile case, a group of teens attacked a 62-year-old Chicago man while a friend shot footage on his cell phone. One of the assailants later posted the cell phone video of the assault on his Facebook account. The man later died from injuries he sustained in the attack. The victim's son saw the Facebook video and notified law enforcement. All three of the teens featured in the video were charged with first-degree murder.

Murder is an extreme example, of course; Facebook evidence is more commonly used in a wide variety of less serious criminal prosecutions. But, even if photos are meant as a joke, they can look very bad in a courtroom context. Imagine that a law enforcement officer suspects a Boulder college student of a drug crime, then turns to Facebook and finds pictures of the suspect at a party next to a bong or flashing a gang sign. A jury or judge might take such photos far more seriously than college peers.

Fourth Amendment Protections

Problematically for many young adults, social media content generally features a lower level of protection from law enforcement scrutiny than other forms of evidence.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects Americans from "unreasonable" searches. What is reasonable under the circumstances typically depends on your expectation of privacy. For example, the owner of a locked file cabinet has a reasonable expectation that what is stored within will remain private. Without first obtaining a search warrant based on a relatively high level of suspicion that a crime has taken place (known as "probable cause" in the legal field), police officers would not be allowed to open the file cabinet and use pictures contained within as evidence in a criminal prosecution

In contrast, photos and videos posted on Facebook are widely available; even if your privacy settings restrict public access to your profile, your friends can view your content. Many court rulings have allowed police to use information gathered from your Facebook profile if they collect it through the cooperation of one of your "friends." By posting content of yourself online, or allowing others to post it, you are surrendering your expectation that the material will remain private, and you thus forfeit your Fourth Amendment protections.

Think Before You Post

It is never a good idea to post anything online that could portray you in a negative light. Even if law enforcement does not become involved, ask yourself whether the content you're putting online is something you'd want in the hands of future professional employers.

If you have been accused of a crime and social media evidence has already been used against you, it does not necessarily mean your future is forfeit. But it does mean you need to minimize the impact by getting in touch with a skilled Colorado criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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