THINK BEFORE YOU CLICK: HOW THE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA NETWORKS CAN LEAD TO CRIMINAL CHARGES IN FLORIDA

August 20, 2010

I confess.  I love Facebook.  It is a great way to reconnect with old friends and keep in touch with current ones.  However, the use of social media networks like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter can lead to serious criminal problems.

Cyberstalking

In October of 2003, the Cyberstalking Law in Florida was passed.  Cyberstalking means to engage in a course of conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, words, images, or language by or though the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose.  One can see how this law can be effectively used by prosecutors in this modern age of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.  Several scenarios that I have seen in my practice that either has or could trigger the use of this statute may be the ex-significant other sending disparaging, rude, vulgar, mean spirited texts, Facebook emails, Facebook posts, Twitter posts, etc., to their ex-boyfriend/girlfriend.  Or maybe the new significant other is on the receiving end of the abuse from the previous significant other.  Once law enforcement gets involved, there is very likely an easy trail of evidence in the form of posts, texts, emails, etc., which lead right to the suspect.

Internet Solicitation of a Child and Child Pornography

 Using the internet or a social media network to lure or entice a child to commit illegal sexual acts can lead to serious criminal charges and penalties that can impact a person for the rest of their lives.   It is easy to see how someone can use Facebook or MySpace to meet underage children and attempt to communicate with them in an illegal way or send pornographic images to them.  The statutes in Florida regarding these offenses specifically state that it is not a defense to the prosecution if the person was in fact an undercover officer and not really a child or minor.

Domestic or Dating Violence Injunctions

In my practice it is becoming much more common to show up to an injunction hearing and see that the complaining party is attempting to introduce text messages, emails, Twitter posts, Facebook emails, and Facebook posts into evidence.  Granted, the issuance of an Injunction for Domestic or Dating Violence is civil and not criminal.  However, the subsequent violation of a Domestic or Dating Violence Injunction is a crime.  It is becoming more prevalent to see that the basis for a the criminal charge of Violation of a Domestic or Dating Violence Injunction is through the use of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

Admissions and Evidence in Open Criminal Cases

Your friends are not the only ones reading what you post on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.  Prosecutors, probation officers, your own attorneys, and attorneys on the other side if you are in civil litigation are reading them as well.  To protect my clients from themselves, I look on Facebook to see if my clients are making posts that can be used against them (See Roger Clemens or Lance Armstrong).  It is entirely possible for a prosecutor to use your Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter posts against you in a pending criminal case.  Your statements in court could be compared to what you have said in the past on Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter.  You better hope that they are consistent with what you have said in court.  There is a well known case in Pinellas County where a prosecutor used Facebook to find the whereabouts of a defendant that fled the country while his case was pending.  His flight from the jurisdiction was used against him as consciousness of guilt during his pending case.

Bond Revocation and/or Bond Increases While Your Case is Pending

Usually people charged with a crime are out on bail pending the resolution of their case.  However, if the case involves a victim, a condition of the bond is usually that the defendant cannot have contact with the victim.  Any contact through Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter can lead a defendant back in court where the prosecutor can request the judge to increase the bond or in some cases, hold the defendant in jail without bond pending the resolution of their case.

Violations of Probation

Once a person is placed on probation, oftentimes there are conditions attached to the probation such as no contact with the victim or no contact with minors.  Simply sending a message or contacting a victim or minor through Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter can lead to a Violation of Probation.

Conclusion

Social media networks like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter are great ways to keep connected to friends both old and new.  However, if you are not careful, their use can lead to unwanted and unexpected dealings with the criminal justice system.   Please contact CLEARWATER CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY for a free initial consultation.

 

 

 

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