Can Social Media Posts and Electronic Communication be Used as Evidence at Trial?
The increasing use of social media and electronic messages to inculpate the accused:
Increasingly all modes of social media and electronic messages are investigated during police investigations into criminal offences.
Police can often investigate the social media and electronic messages of people suspected of committing a criminal offence.
All modes of social media and electronic messages can be used as evidence against the accused at trial to prove association with a criminal organization.
As well, all modes of social media and electronic communication can be investigated and used to prove that a criminal offence has occurred.
This is especially true when criminal charges arise out of one person’s damning words against an accused.
The complainant can submit their communication with the accused to the police and this can be used to prove the accused's guilt in a situation where the their guilt would, without that communication, be significantly more difficult to prove.
It is advisable not to discuss anything that would inculpate yourself through any mode of electronic communication, whether text, email, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Assume that anything you post online is in the public domain and could potentially be used as evidence against you.
Even youtube music videos of people accused of criminal offences have been used by the Crown to prove association with a criminal organization or the accused person’s co-accused.
As well cell phone signals have been used to prove the location of accused people in relation to the occurrence of a criminal offence.
It can assist the Crown in proving that the accused was at least present in the vicinity where the criminal offence in question occurred.
While police maintain they are not looking for unfettered access to peoples private communication, it seems that they are able to access communication that an accused may never have anticipated that they would have access to.
People have criticized this police practice as a violation of personal privacy, saying that it goes too far.
An example of this is when the Vancouver Police used social media information and posts to make arrests and charge people with criminal offences during the 2011 Stanley Cup hockey riots.
Multiple people were charged with criminal offences following those riots due to their social media posts.
There have also been incidents where the Toronto Police investigative people, using social media and have used false names and false information in chat rooms to spot crime plots and lure offenders.
Police officers are now trained on how to conduct criminal offence investigations into virtual online information.
The accused assume that their social media and electronic communication is private and could not be used against them, however it commonly is.
There needs to be a balance between community safety and an individual's right to a reasonable expectation of privacy.
However people should be aware that anything they post online as well as electronic communication could potentially be used against them.
It is advisable not to electronically communicate or post anything online that could suggest the participation in a criminal offence.