Anyone who is a fan of police procedural shows or crime dramas may be familiar with the phrase, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.” Actors offer these warnings with grim expressions as they haul a suspect into custody. What is now part of popular culture stems from a case that, in 1966, made it all the way up to the Supreme Court. The case, Miranda v. Arizona, established what is now known as the Miranda warning or Miranda rights. It stipulates that all suspects that are subject to direct questioning by authorities must be informed of their right against self incrimination.
Suspects have a right to an attorney, even if they can’t afford one. And they have a right to refuse to answer questions without their attorney present. As a criminal defense lawyer, this right is paramount to assisting in a defense of our clients. The right to remain silent is not limited, however, to the moments that police have a suspect in custody. Now, with the advent of social media, people have a whole new way of getting in trouble with the law with a click of a keyboard. Today we are going to look at some of these cases and offer some social media suggestions from a criminal defense lawyer.
Thoughts On Social Media From a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Let’s face it, almost everyone you know is on social media. It has become the way we share our lives, the way we communicate with friends and the way we keep up with the world around us. For many people, that may be harmless. For those who are facing criminal charges it can be a much bigger deal. As a criminal defense lawyer I have one major bit of advice regarding social media for those facing criminal charges. Almost everything you say and do online can be used against you in a court of law AND the court of public opinion.
There are countless stories of police officers using social media to bolster their cases against defendants; from the Philadelphia case in which authorities used Facebook messages to arrest two people in a murder for hire plot, to Houston police arresting a 19 year old bank teller after a Facebook post implicated her in a bank robbery. Oversharing on social media is a great way get caught and convicted as police can use your own posts against you. Even innocent online conversations, often meant as a defense mechanism, can be misinterpreted and twisted by both the authorities and the media.
Best Practices For Social Media During Trial
If you are heading into trial we offer the following best practices:
- Shut it down. If possible, suspend your social media accounts. This is the easiest way to prevent past indiscretions, out of context quotes, and even photos from being used against you.
- Lock it up. If you don’t want to suspend the account, locking down your privacy settings can help keep your personal information private. Most social mediums, including Facebook and Twitter, have default settings that offer levels of transparency. This allows even total strangers to see what you are up to. It is better to update your privacy settings immediately.
- Watch what you say. From status updates to comments on a friend’s post, be careful with what you put out into the world via the social media. Each and everyone of these can be reviewed in the context of your case. A simple smiley face status update can seem flippant, a slightly crabby comment can come off as angry or irritable toward others. Every little bit can be used against you in court.
- Watch what your friends say. Even with all of the best intentions, a friend posting on your page can also lead to trouble. Make sure it doesn’t paint an unflattering picture or contradict your claims. Even with your friend’s posts, statements can be misinterpreted so it is always best to err on the side of caution.
- A picture is worth 1,000 words. Make sure they are the right words. A fun photo of friends drinking together can take a major turn if one of those friends is on probation and prohibited from imbibing. Would you want a police officer, probation officer or judge reviewing the photo? If the answer is no, it doesn’t belong on social media.
- Would you say it in a court of law? Given that many social media profiles are public, police officers, prosecuting attorneys and judges may be privy to what you post on your pages, and what is posted about you. Ask yourself, could this be used against you?
It is vital to remember that the right to remain silent is a powerful tool that can mean the difference between an acquittal and a conviction. This right to remain silent extends beyond the police station to social media as well. Exercise this right. If you most post to social media, post as if everyone in court is watching. Chances are good that they are. If you are facing criminal charges, it is important to know your rights. Contact an attorney at the offices of Chassaniol & Marty, LLC today.