You’ve probably seen them – assaults, burglaries, and other crimes, in living color on YouTube, Facebook, or other social media platforms.
Video evidence of a person perpetrating a crime may be introduced by the state as evidence in a criminal trial. If you are the defendant, your Orange County criminal defense attorney will either have to show that you may not be the person in the video and/or that the video itself is suspect and cannot be authenticated.
IF YOU’RE CHARGED WITH A CRIME, WHAT SHOULD BE YOUR FIRST MOVE?
Here in southern California, if you are arrested and charged with a crime on the basis of a YouTube video – or some other video evidence – you must reach out immediately for the legal advice and representation that you will very much need.
If you are charged with a crime, arrange at once to meet with an experienced criminal defense attorney. The right defense lawyer will protect your legal rights, fight vigorously for justice on your behalf, and bring your case to its best possible conclusion.
Law enforcement agencies and California prosecutors routinely scrutinize Facebook, YouTube, and other sites for evidence of crimes and evidence that can be used to prosecute criminals.
WHEN CAN VIDEO EVIDENCE BE USED IN A CRIMINAL TRIAL?
If a video is introduced as evidence in a criminal trial in California, the video:
1. must be relevant to the case
2. must demonstrate or prove something about the case
3. must be authentic in a way that can be verified by a video expert
Video surveillance has been a tool of retailers and property owners for decades, but only recently have some criminals started shooting videos of themselves committing crimes, uploading those videos to YouTube or broadcasting live, and even bragging online about their criminal exploits.
WHY DO SOME CRIMINALS PUBLICIZE AND BRAG ABOUT THEIR CRIMES?
In 2017, three men in Sweden were arrested for assaulting a woman while they were broadcasting the assault on Facebook Live. Authorities were notified by viewers, and the video ends with the Swedish police arriving and making arrests.
Closer to home, a young man with disabilities was tortured in Chicago – and live on Facebook. YouTube is the website to visit, however, if you want an idea of how many crimes are recorded on video – by perpetrators, victims, third-party videographers, and security cameras.
Of course, a criminal’s impulse to upload a video of himself or herself committing a crime – or the impulse to “go live” and brag about one’s crimes – is the very definition of self-incrimination, yet according to researchers, it’s a trend that’s on the rise.
On the other hand, bragging about one’s crimes is nothing new. Even in the nineteenth century, Jack the Ripper sent letters to London’s newspapers taunting the press and the police and daring them to stop him.
HOW CAN A LAWYER DEFEND YOU IF THE VIDEO SAYS YOU’RE GUILTY?
What’s new is our ability, thanks to smartphones and the internet, to create and distribute video content easily, widely, and immediately. Facebook now reaches more than 1.7 billion people, and YouTube reports over a billion users every month.
How can a defense lawyer help you if there is a video that shows you committing the crime you are charged with, and that video is introduced as evidence against you? Your defense attorney will need to prove at least one of these claims:
1. The video does not show what it is purported to show.
2. The video was phony from the start or has been tampered with.
3. The person committing a crime in the video is not you.
When video is introduced by a prosecutor in a criminal trial, the outcome of the trial may depend on whether the video can be trusted. Does the video prove that the defendant committed the crime in question, or is the video misleading?
HOW ARE POLICE DEPARTMENTS AND PROSECUTORS USING SOCIAL MEDIA?
The police and prosecutors also use the Facebook and Twitter information they discover by linking to a defendant’s social media friends and followers. Officers in some police departments even send Facebook friend requests to suspects in their efforts to obtain evidence.
How important is social media evidence in criminal investigations today? In 2011, police in New York established a social media unit, and in 2013, the Los Angeles Police Department adopted guidelines that significantly expanded the LAPD’s use of social media in criminal investigations.
In Los Angeles, when the police receive a crime tip or complaint, officers go to social media sites looking for suspects, victims, witnesses, evidence, and leads.
However, unlike police departments in New York City and Los Angeles, most police departments in the U.S. have no written guidelines for online investigations, and officers often have to use their own instincts and discretion.
HOW CAN A DEFENSE LAWYER HELP YOU?
Legal concerns are just beginning to emerge regarding investigations into the social media lives of persons who have not been charged with a crime.
For now, if you’re charged with a crime in southern California because of a video on Facebook, YouTube, or any other platform, you’ll need to be represented by a qualified defense attorney who understands video technology and how the law applies in your case.
Your defense attorney will determine who made the video and whether it is authentic. If you are innocent of the crime you are charged with, ask your lawyer to challenge the state’s case, and if the charge against you cannot be dropped, your attorney will ask a jury to find you not guilty.
On the other hand, if the video is authentic and the evidence against you is persuasive, your attorney might recommend accepting a plea bargain that lets you avoid the harshest potential penalties.
WHAT PRESUMPTIONS CAN YOU MAKE ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA?
The wisest presumption to make about the internet is this: Anything that you post on social media – and anything that your friends post – can be used against you if you are charged with a crime. Assume that nothing online is ever really “private” or ever really “deleted.”
Don’t let yourself be convicted of a crime on the basis of a fraudulent or corrupted YouTube or Facebook video.
If you need legal help to contest a criminal charge, get that help as quickly as possible after you’ve been arrested. Nothing is more important than your future and your freedom.