Out on Bail in California? Tweeting can be Fleeting, Facebook or freedom? You make the call

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Guest Post by Shannon Dorvall

Shannon Dorvall is a practicing Los Angeles Criminal Attorney.  She is a graduate of the University of Montana law school, and has argued cases in front of Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. When she isn’t writing about law or actually practicing it, Shannon enjoys perfecting her cooking and catching up with a good book.

Advice for Clients: Out on Bail? Don’t Touch Social Media

The landscape of criminal law has met the sprawling ocean that is social media, and the two have begun interacting in very interesting ways. Indeed, a foul post on Facebook or a rogue tweet can be the nail in your client’s coffin—other times it’s the dirt on top of that grave. Either way, there are new considerations to take when advising clients in relation to social media. Here are a couple pieces of advice that you might offer your clients awaiting trial.

Status Updates & Tweets
Your client should absolutely refrain from posting anything on their social media networks relating to their case. You know this, but your client may not. It happens all the time. Clients will be awaiting their trial and post something along the lines of “hope they find me innocent… even though i’m guilty. lol”. I know that it sounds extremely stupid—well, it is extremely stupid—but your client definitely would not be the first person to lose their own case that way.

Pictures
Not only should your client not post any incriminating status updates or 140 character tweets, but you may need to remind them not to post any pictures either. A lot of times you’ll get police agencies that have already searched Facebook and Twitter profiles to make their arrests—but then there are those times when your client has their account set to private and thinks that nobody will see them. Unfortunately, while nobody can look at Mrs. Jones’s profile, they can see the pictures that she and the pool boy just posted via his profile. This causes problems when Mrs. Jones and the pool boy are the two primary suspects in Mr. Jones’s murder investigation. More realistically, clients have been known to post pictures that provide information that directly contradicts an alibi or a statement made under oath. Social media has a lot of back doors to account for, so it’s better just to play it safe and not post anything at all.

The Illusion of Privacy
Last but not least there is always the ability of the police to obtain a warrant and scour through your client’s private messages. Those messages, if they contain incriminating information (whether or not the police get a warrant), tend to have a way of finding their way to the public. I remember hearing about a case where a woman’s daughter died due to neglect, and the uncle was charged with the crime. After some time, the woman confessed to her friend that it was her fault (via private messages), and the friend turned her in. The messages became evidence.

Cease Activity
The best advice that I think you can give a client is to cease activity on their social networks for the remainder of their period working with you. Of course, if they are under investigation, there is nothing that they can do about the wealth of information already out there on the internet, but it’s never too late for caution.

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