Technology has made our communications and interactions instantaneous. It’s become second-nature to document almost every waking moment – from what we’re eating for breakfast to conflicts at work to expressions of affection, amusing observations and plans.
But the platforms on which we share these insights and information aren’t as private as we might think. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have gotten very adept at scouring these sites for evidence that may help bolster a criminal case. That could include identification of a suspect or evidence that might be used against a known person or both. People need to be very mindful of this fact when they go to post anything on the internet – even in seemingly closed communications.
Recently, The Sun Sentinel reported Hollywood police officers were able to track down a man who evaded police with active lights-and-sirens on an all-terrain vehicle while riding down the highway during a, “Bikes Up, Guns Down” event in January. This was an impressive feat considering the officers didn’t know the man’s name, the ATV didn’t have a plate number on it and the man lived 1,150 miles away and returned home shortly after the incident. How did they do it? A cell phone selfie-style video.
The video was posted to the suspect’s Instagram account. Authorities who chased the suspect on S.R. 7 knew he was recording a video for at least a portion of it because they were right behind him, watching him do it.
So when they didn’t ultimately catch him that day, they took to social media. They scoured numerous sites for the hashtag associated with the organized event. Sure enough, suspect’s video was posted there on Instagram. His face was clear, as were the handful of police units – lights and sirens blazing – immediately in the background. The 27-year-old was seen laughing and smiling as he turns back numerous times, looking at the law enforcement vehicles behind him.
He was reportedly traveling 50 mph in a 35 mph zone before making a U-turn into oncoming traffic. At one point in the video, the man reportedly shouts at the officers to, “shut up.”
The event, which aims to draw attention to gun violence, is organized almost exclusively on social media, so social media was naturally one of the first places officers looked. In addition to the video, a sergeant discovered among the suspect’s pictures one showcasing a license plate of a motorbike. By conducting a database search on that bike, the officer was able to identify the suspect.
He was soon after arrested by authorities in New York, and was being detained in Rikers Island Jail in New York City, pending extradition to Florida.
This case underscores what our criminal defense lawyers try to drive home with the public, which is one must always be mindful of what is posted to the public.
Some of the best practices we often recommend to criminal defense clients include:
- If possible, shut down your social media accounts. This is often the easiest way to block photos, quotes or past indiscretions from being used against you.
- Set your privacy settings to the maximum. This won’t eliminate the material, but it will make it harder to see. Note that courts can grant a court order requiring you to give access to prosecutors in some cases.
- Be careful what you say. This is true whether it’s a status update or a comment on someone else’s post. Even a simple smiley face emoji can come back to haunt you.
- Be judicious about the pictures you post. Every photo can tell a story. Even seemingly innocuous images can come across the wrong way.
Essentially, don’t post or say anything you wouldn’t want read allowed in a court of law.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Cellphone selfie leads Hollywood cops to reckless rider in New York, Feb. 3, 2017, By Adam Sacasa, The Sun-Sentinel
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