Social media content is increasingly used as evidence in trials, in everything from personal injury cases to divorces. A recent court ruling, however, illustrated some limits to its use. A California appeals court ruled that Facebook and other social media companies don’t have to hand over private user content to criminal defendants before trial. In a case that weighed the defendants’ right to due process against federal privacy laws, the court came down on the side of privacy.
The details of the case
In the case, two defendants were accused of committing a drive-by shooting. Their lawyers subpoenaed information from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in advance of trial. They were seeking to prove that the victim and a witness made threatening posts before the shooting. The victim, they alleged, was a violent criminal who had made threats against people, and the witness’ statements were motivated by jealousy. The subpoena sought not only public content, but also private content, including e-mail addresses, private messages, and deleted information.
Facebook and the other social media companies fought the subpoenas, saying that federal privacy laws protected the information. They cited the federal Stored Communications Act, which restricts access and disclosure of private online information.
A trial court ruled against the companies, which appealed the case. The appeals court reversed the lower court’s ruling, siding with Facebook. The Court of Appeals said its ruling applied only to pre-trial efforts to subpoena the information and that the defendants could try to once again subpoena the information at trial.
The implications of social media posts
Although the appeals court ruled in favor of the social media companies, this case serves as important reminder of the implications of social media posts. The lower court ruled the opposite way, and the door is still open for the defendants to try to get the information again at trial. Depending on the circumstances, evidence from posts you’ve made can sometimes be used against you in court, just as posts from other people may help support your case.
When you need representation
The experienced attorneys at Greenman, Goldberg, Raby, Martinez in Las Vegas can help advise and represent you in legal action. Call 702-388-GGRM (4476) for a free consultation.