The Use of Social Media in Missouri Criminal Cases

Social Media and Crimes in Missouri

Social media feeds quickly became people’s favorite place to share their daily lives, connect with people, and speak their minds. However, what might seem like an innocent post about your hobbies or favorite songs could easily be used as evidence against you if you become a suspect in a crime.

State and federal prosecutors have relied on data collected from social channels to help convict those accused of crimes on so many occasions. Emails, chat messages, and posted opinions can always be retrieved and interpreted by investigators, sometimes out of context.

Remember that the internet and social platforms don’t forget. Everything you like, share, or post online will probably stay there forever. Sometimes, your social media data is used to build a case against you.

How Law Enforcement Uses Social Media in Investigations

According to a report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), social media can be used in various ways to obtain information and evidence during a criminal investigation. State and federal law enforcement agencies have used social media public and private data to build criminal cases. Here’s how:

Using Your Public Data

Law enforcement can access your public information on social media like everyone else. Such information includes friends/followers list, geolocation, or demographics. Getting data from a social platform is easy since no authorization is needed.

Your Facebook profile is an easy way to get a list of your friends and acquaintances. A public profile can also give more information on your social life and personality than you think. Therefore, it can be used by law enforcement agencies to learn more about you and the type of people you associate with.

Investigating a crime can become a lot easier when people make social media posts that connect them to criminal activities. Such posts can be enough evidence to secure an arrest or search warrant.

Using Your Private or Restricted Data

Law enforcement officers can access your restricted or private information in different ways:

  • Using informants or your social media friends who have access to private chats or posts to obtain such private data.

  • Opening fake accounts to connect with you or your close friends. Most people accept friend or following requests from anyone on social media. After all, social media platforms connect people globally. The police can access private information on social media using pseudo accounts.

  • Using warrants, subpoenas, and court orders to compel social media companies to give them access to your data, including private chats, posts, and comments.

Law enforcement can also use your data even if you are not a suspect in a crime. They may monitor your data and activity as part of a broad operation of intelligence gathering during times of unrest, such as riots. These are often used to identify and neutralize national security threats.

How and when law enforcement can access and use your social media data is regulated by each agency’s internal policy and guidelines. These guidelines must be careful not to violate a person’s constitutional rights, such as the right to free speech under the First Amendment.

Using Social Media Evidence in Sex Crimes

When someone is accused of a sex crime in Missouri, law enforcement will make sure they can access and analyze their social media for evidence. Sex crimes are among the most common on the internet and social media, so there’s every likelihood that law enforcement will find damaging evidence.

Under the federal statute 18 U.S.C. §2258A, electronic service providers, including social media and tech companies, are obliged to report sexual crimes against children when they learn about such activity. Therefore, if it comes to the knowledge of a social media platform that your content may constitute child sexual exploitation, they have a duty to report it to the authorities.

Social media evidence does not have to be directly connected to the crime. For example, if you are accused of child pornography, a friends or following list that is unusually full of child or family accounts may be a red flag for the police.

Other sex crimes have become inherently connected to social media, and the chances of finding unfavorable evidence are high. Such crimes include enticement of children, promoting sexual solicitation, and sex crime conspiracies.

It’s crucial to consider the dire consequences of a sex crime conviction. You may be required to register as a sex offender under Missouri sex offender laws.

Privacy Concerns and Legal Implications

The use of social media as evidence in Missouri criminal cases raises significant privacy concerns. Individuals may feel that their personal information, posts, and communications are being scrutinized without their consent. Some argue that this intrusion into personal online spaces violates their privacy rights, even though the content is publicly accessible.

Missouri courts have grappled with the balance between privacy rights and the need for evidence obtained from social media. Several cases have set precedents regarding the admissibility of social media evidence. Courts often consider whether individuals had a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding their posts and whether law enforcement followed proper procedures when accessing this information.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

Because law enforcement, like everyone else, can easily access your public social media data, it may be wise to adjust your privacy settings to limit public access to your profiles and posts. You should also avoid posting any incriminating content, even in private chat rooms.

If you are already a suspect in a crime, avoid discussing the case or sharing potentially damaging content. If you haven’t already done so, seek legal counsel immediately. Make sure to follow your attorney’s legal advice regarding social media conduct to prevent jeopardizing your defense.

Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center Can Help You

Are you facing criminal charges in Kansas City or Belton, MO? The Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center can help you. Our knowledgeable attorneys will guide you throughout the process and build a solid defense for you. Here’s how we can help you:

  • Carefully review and assess the relevance and authenticity of social media evidence presented by the prosecution.

  • Consider challenging the admissibility of such evidence if it violates your privacy rights or lacks proper authentication.

  • Consult digital forensic experts or technical specialists when necessary to analyze social media content.

Contact us now for a free initial consultation.

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