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Why do prosecutors search defendants’ social media accounts?

On Behalf of | Mar 12, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Prosecutors often turn to the digital footprints created by defendants on social media platforms as part of their investigative and case-building processes. This modern investigative tactic is rooted in the understanding that social media accounts can be treasure troves of information, potentially revealing insights into a defendant’s behavior, motives and whereabouts relevant to criminal cases.

This is just one of the many reasons why it’s important for defendants to stay off of social media while their criminal charges remain pending. There is simply too much at stake to unintentionally volunteer potentially damaging information online that a prosecutor could use against someone who is facing charges.

What a defendant posts can be used against them

Social media can provide a rich source of evidence that could potentially undermine a defendant’s case. Posts, messages, photographs and videos can all serve to establish a timeline of events, demonstrate a defendant’s state of mind or even directly implicate them in criminal activities. For example, a post showing the defendant at a specific location at a certain time or displaying items connected to criminal activities can be potent evidence in court.

Social media can also offer insights into a defendant’s thoughts and attitudes that might not be accessible through other means. Posts or interactions that suggest animosity towards an individual or group or that indicate premeditation can bolster a prosecutor’s case by providing context and motive for an alleged crime.

Finally, defendants may present certain claims regarding their character, whereabouts or actions relevant to their case. Prosecutors may use social media to verify these claims, looking for contradictions that could undermine the defense. For instance, if a defendant claims alibi at a certain time, but their social media shows them elsewhere, it could significantly weaken their defense.

The reality that anything posted on social media can be used against a defendant cannot be overemphasized. As a result, it’s important to understand that defendants should refrain from social media use – even with privacy settings maximized – until their cases have been resolved.