In today’s culture, people post information on social media that can be shocking and revealing. Behind a screen, users seem to feel safe and protected from the consequences of their publicly shared stories, photos and videos, even if they are illegal.
This raises the question of whether you can be legally liable for what you say on social media? Is a photo, video or status enough evidence for law enforcement to deem your action illegal?
While it depends on the case, the answer is yes. If what you post on social media is illegal, you have a significant change of essential incriminating yourself.
Whitney Beall, a 23-year-old from Florida recently received a DUI after live streaming herself driving drunk on Periscope. Police were able to track her location and arrest her while committing the crime. Hawaii resident Richard Gerlad Godbehere, Jr. wasn’t live streaming but similar to Beall’s actions posted a video of himself online driving while drinking. After the police were informed of the video, Godbehere was arrested for Possessing Liquor While Operating a Vehicle as well as Driving Without a License.
In cases such as Godbehere, although police didn’t physically catch him breaking the law, the video presented substantial evidence revealing illegal actions. This was also the situation with Jacob Cox-Brown, an 18-year old Oregon resident who posted a photo on Facebook of a parked car he had crashed into while intoxicated then left behind.
He captioned the photo “Drivin drunk…classic;) but to whoever’s vehicle I hit I am sorry. :P”, complete with careless character faces. Facebook friends of Cox-Brown soon informed authorities and due to his posted evidence, he was later charged with failure to perform the duties of a driver. Cox-Brown was not charged with drinking and driving though as the photo posted did not prove the teenager’s physical state at the time of the incident.
There have been several of these cases and the outcomes are typically similar, if you are presenting evidence of a crime you committed online in a public virtual setting, it’s essentially the same as you presenting the evidence to a law enforcement officer in person.
The digital age is still evolving and now more than ever, the online community is consistently growing. Law enforcement uses Facebook and other social media channels to solve cases, catch criminals and gather evidence for prosecution. A confession is still a confession, no matter where it takes place.