Social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook have had major impacts in criminal cases. People will post messages on their Facebook pages, or post messages to another’s Facebook page, that they would not want coming out in a criminal trial. However, if the message is relevant to an issue and the authenticity of the message can be established, the message can be brought out for the judge and jury to see. This can have a very significant impact on a defendant, good or bad, or any other witness in a case.
In a recent sexual battery case south of Jacksonville, Florida, a defendant was accused of raping and beating his ex-girlfriend. Several months after the arrest, the alleged victim sent a series of insulting messages to the defendant’s new girlfriend through Facebook. At the trial, the criminal defense lawyer sought to introduce the evidence of the Facebook messages so he could cross-examine the ex-girlfriend with them. The state objected saying they were prejudicial and irrelevant. However, the court ultimately ruled that the derogatory messages sent by the alleged victim were admissible for cross-examination.
At any criminal trial, a criminal defense attorney has a right to fully cross-examine the state’s witnesses, and that includes the right to explore a witness’s biases and improper motives to testify against the defendant. In this case, the Facebook messages supported the defense argument that the alleged victim was jealous of the defendant and had a motive to lie as a result. Therefore, the criminal defense lawyer had a right to bring them into the trial and use them to question the alleged victim and attack her credibility.