Social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace have become extremely popular, not just among high school and college students, but for people of all age groups, but the information that is posted on these sites is also being used as a tool by prosecutors to obtain evidence against defendants to prove their cases and support harsher sentences. These sites are a great way for people to stay in touch with friends and family members and keep people updated about their lives. However, users of Facebook, Myspace and similar sites need to be aware that what they post on those websites can be used against them in court in a criminal or other type of case.
For example, in Rhode Island, a college student who was facing drunk driving charges after crashing into another person and sending her to the hospital attended a party wearing a prison inmate outfit shortly after his DUI arrest, according to an article on Foxnews.com. Pictures of him at the party were posted on Facebook. The prosecutors saw the pictures, printed them and presented them to the judge at the sentencing hearing. Those pictures helped the prosecutors get an enhanced sentence of two years in prison. This is not an isolated example, and the article goes on to provide other situations where a criminal defendant received a higher sentence as a result of prosecutors showing the judge Facebook or Myspace postings that undercut any claim that the defendant was remorseful for the crime.
The pictures in the Rhode Island DUI case would almost certainly not be admissible in trial if the defendant had plead not guilty and requested a trial since they do not tend to show that the defendant committed the DUI crime with which he was charged. However, once the defendant pleads guilty, the judge can consider such pictures as they arguably do tend to show whether or not the defendant was remorseful for committing the DUI and injuring the victim.
There certainly would be circumstances where what a criminal defendant posts on Facebook, Myspace or a similar site would come into evidence during the course of a trial if a criminal defendant posts information or a picture that is relevant to the issue of whether he/she committed the crime for which he/she is charged. The lesson, of course, is that if you have been charged with a crime, or suspect you might be, do not post on the Internet or via email any messages, comments, pictures or anything else that has anything to do with any aspect of the case. In other words, if you are a criminal defendant or a suspect or think you may be one in the future, before you post something on Facebook, Myspace or a related site, consider whether you would want a judge or jury to see it. If the answer is no, think twice before putting it on the Internet.