Even if they have never been read to you, you are probably at least vaguely familiar with the Miranda rights—you know, the “Everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law” spiel. What you might not know, however, is that this rule isn’t limited to the things you say once you’re in police custody. Courts are also generally able to take quotes from other sources—including personal accounts on websites like Twitter or Facebook—to use against you in a court of law as well.
The Legal Risks of Facebook
Research has shown that 74% of adults who use the Internet also use social networking sites. Facebook in particular has over one billion registered users worldwide. But as society becomes more and more tech-focused and as more and more people come to embrace social media in their daily lives, courts and legal systems are adjusting as well.
As Ohio resident Ryan Fye found out recently, anything posted on Facebook can and will be used against you in a court of law. The 22-year-old Fye was recently released from prison after serving seven months of a three-year sentence, only to be taken into custody again following a status update that he posted to Facebook, which read: “Prison didnt break me. It MADE me. Im free. Im a new man. Don’t come at like before. Yes im skinny and muscular now. 7 months of working out everyday. Love my real friends an fam. Shout outs to my fam behind bars. Ill see ya when you’re time is near! Miss you brothers!”
While the message doesn’t seem inherently threatening, it was enough for a judge to conclude that it violated sanctions that had been imposed on Fye as part of his early release. The judge ordered that Fye return to prison and stay there for the remainder of his original three-year sentence.
What Not to Do On Facebook
Since anything that’s posted online can be used as evidence against virtually any criminal charges, it’s important to be aware of what you’re saying and think twice before sending it out into the virtual world. Here are some things that you definitely should not do on any social media websites:
- Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to a police officer. This is the golden rule of Facebook and social media—if you don’t want people to know about it, don’t say it. This is especially true with anything that can be considered wrong or unlawful.
- Don’t do anything that might offend other involved parties. Ryan Fye’s Facebook post came under fire because it upset the family of the teenager who Fye killed in a car accident. If you are involved in some kind of legal situation, avoid posting anything that may upset anyone else involved in the case, including victims, victims’ families, or any of the involved legal players such as police officers, judges, or lawyers.
- Be mindful of which photos you post. Hopefully this is obvious, but you should avoid posting incriminating photos of yourself. When it comes to Facebook, people often make the mistake of thinking that if they don’t tag themselves in a photo, the photo can have no power over them. In fact, the only way to keep a picture of yourself completely private is to keep it off the Internet entirely. Do not risk putting incriminating pictures up at all or they may come back to bite you.
It’s also always a good idea to make sure that your privacy settings are as secure as possible, so that no one can stumble onto your page uninvited and find out information about you that you don’t want them to have. However, changing your privacy settings isn’t always enough, since courts can order that you reveal your account information if they believe it is relevant to the case.
Fight Charges That Cite Online Evidence
Unfortunately, there’s no limit to the ways in which Facebook evidence can be used against you. Formal discovery requests can be issued for virtually any information that is posted online, and usually the requests are honored.
However, if you find yourself in a legal battle that suddenly involves personal evidence taken from your Facebook account or other websites, don’t let the other side shock you into thinking that you don’t have any chance to defend yourself. You always have the right to fight back, and a knowledgeable lawyer will be able to help you do so. If you’re going up against charges that cite information from Facebook as evidence, start building your defense today.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing atThe Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.