Twenty-four percent of lawyers mine social media for evidence during case investigations, according to the American Bar Association’s 2017 Legal Technology Survey.1 Interestingly, that number is expected to grow as court rulings indicate that online actions can and will be used against them as admissible evidence — regardless of privacy settings or deleted posts.
Prosecutors have begun to scour social media to prove motive and identify witnesses. In some instances, judges have ruled in favor2 of granting attorneys access to private accounts if they can prove reasonable cause to dig deeper.
An employee of a subcontractor sued Weis Markets3 for damages, claiming a leg injury he suffered seriously and permanently impaired his health and ability to enjoy life. However, attorneys for Weis Markets found evidence on the employee’s Facebook and Myspace pages which included him engaged in motorcycle stunts and riding. He also posted pictures of himself wearing shorts, which he asserted in his deposition was too embarrassing after his injury.
His scar was clearly visible in the pictures, so the attorneys could prove they occurred after the accident — and the employee’s “debilitating” injury was not as serious as he claimed.
A teenager was arrested for a mugging in Brooklyn that he insisted he wasn’t involved in. The boy spent 2 weeks in jail before his father discovered a Facebook status update he’d made 1 minute before the mugging from his Harlem apartment — which was 12 miles away.
The boy’s father presented the evidence4 to the district attorney who submitted a subpoena to Facebook to verify the location from which the update was made. The time stamp and location proved that witnesses who placed the boy at the scene of the crime were wrong, and he was cleared of the charges.
A husband told the court5 he was unemployed and needed alimony payments from his wife. But on Facebook, he bragged about being a business owner and showed off trips to Las Vegas, South America and Sea World with his new girlfriend. The wife's divorce attorney used the man’s posts to discredit him, and he was denied financial support.
In another case6, a father reportedly paid less than $200 in child support since the birth of his son, claiming he had no money. Sadly, the boy suffers from leukemia and has endured expensive hospital stays, chemotherapy sessions and other treatments. Yet, the father bragged on Facebook about how much money he earns. The posts were brought to the attention of the Milwaukee District Attorney who rang the father up on charges of felony failure to pay child support.
The openness of social media — and people’s willingness to tweet and post things that relay much about their lives and actions — makes social networks treasure troves of potential pre-litigation intelligence, cross-examination fodder and even research on potential jurors.
Utilizing social media in court cases is still relatively new, but the legal profession is quickly catching on to the benefits. With millions of users interacting with these sites every day, savvy attorneys are recognizing the value of the information opposing parties are posting — and using it to their clients’ advantage.
Discover how TransUnion’s investigative tool TLOxp® can make it easier and faster for attorneys to gain valuable insight, not just from social media but a variety of investigative, risk management and skip tracing tools. Contact one of our experts today.
1 Black, Nicole. "How Are Lawyers Using Social Media In 2016? [INFOGRAPHIC]." MyCase Blog. February 2016. Accessed May 25, 2018. https://www.mycase.com/blog/2016/02/how-are-lawyers-using-social-media-in-2016-infographic/.
2 Grow, Brian. "In U.S. Courts, Facebook Posts Become Less Private." Reuters. January 28, 2011. Accessed May 25, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-privacy/in-u-s-courts-facebook-posts-become-less-private-idUSTRE70Q7EG20110128.
3 Lomer, Dawn. "Social Media Case Examples and Court Decisions." I-Sight. Accessed May 25, 2018. https://i-sight.com/resources/ebook-how-to-gather-social-media-evidence-social-media-case-examples-and-court-decisions/.
4 Beltrami, Damiano. "With Facebook as Alibi, Brooklyn Robbery Charge Is Dropped." The New York Times. November 11, 2009. Accessed May 25, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/12/nyregion/12facebook.html.
5 "Child Custody." MaleyInvestigations. Accessed May 25, 2018. http://maleyinvestigations.com/child-custody.asp?tip=45.
6 Davis, Stephen, and Meghan Dwyer. "Parents Not Paying Child Support Get Busted Because of Facebook Posts." KFOR.com. July 18, 2014. Accessed May 25, 2018. http://kfor.com/2014/07/18/parents-not-paying-child-support-get-busted-because-of-facebook-posts/.