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The Miranda Rights that law enforcement officers are required to read to you when you're arrested advise that "anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." Those rights protect you while in police custody, but in our ever-increasingly technological society, it may be fair to warn you that anything you post on Facebook can be held against you in a court of law. No matter the offence, Facebook posts, messages and communications can be subpoenaed and introduced as evidence in court.
A landmark case in 2010 warranted Acting New York State Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Spinner to rule that Facebook information could be used as evidence in a disability hearing, setting a precedence for Facebook in court. Facebook is used as communication and as such is treated the same way as letters, phone conversations and e-mails in a court of law. Even if your Facebook communication was through private messages, they can be printed and used as evidence for offences. If you've been so unwise as to post evidence of a crime in a public manner, such as news feed posts or public albums, a subpoena will not be necessary to find and introduce such evidence in court.
Issues and Investigations
Certain issues and types of cases are more prone to having Facebook introduced as evidence than others. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers notes that 81 per cent of its members have used or faced Facebook- or other social website-based evidence in divorce hearings, according to a June 29, 2010, article in "USA Today." Cyber-bullying has also been caught and dealt with because of Facebook usage, as has underage drinking and illegal behaviour.
What It Means
Even if you don't plan on committing a crime, knowing that Facebook can be used as evidence in court is a reminder that Facebook is not a private website. Millions of users who post status messages, pictures and other media should remember that any actions on Facebook could be used against them in everything from a disability case to a divorce hearing. Even seemingly innocuous actions, such as posting a picture from a weekend party, flirting online or posting the lyrics to your favourite song, can be skewed when investigated and placed under a legal microscope.
Although Facebook is typically admissible in court, it's decided by the presiding judge on a case-by-case basis. A lawyer must have the inclusion of Facebook pictures and posts approved by the judge before introducing them as evidence. Still, it's a widely accepted practice, and the idea of social media as evidence may have a bearing on changing evidential procedures and laws.
- Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images News/Getty Images