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The impact of social media on the criminal justice system

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I read an interesting article today about a man who was on trial for allegedly having committed a serious assault.  In his opinion, the trial was going in his favour.  Unfortunately, he decided to get on facebook and announce that he felt he was going to ‘get away with it’.  This post came to the attention of the prosecutor in the case, who was prepared to tender it into evidence.  The accused fellow then changed his plea to ‘guilty’.  However, it didn’t seem like he learned his lesson.  Before he was sentenced, he went back onto facebook and made disparaging comments about the judge.  The judge found out.  Needless to say, the outcome was not good for this man.  The story is humourous but raises an important issue about our modern world and technology.  In order for a criminal defence lawyer to be effective, she must be aware of modern social trends and the current state of technology.  Like it or not, social media is rapidly becoming a part of everyday life.  With each passing day, more and more people are incorporating social media into their lives.  A criminal defence lawyer must be aware of these facts and have at least a basic understanding of how these social media services work.  Social media can be the source of relevant evidence in a criminal case both for the prosecution and the defence.  It can also be a tool that can get a client into further trouble if he or she is not properly advised by his or her criminal defence lawyer.  A prime example is the one above.  Most people would agree that the person in the story above should not have had to been warned by his lawyer about such foolish behaviour.  However, there are other instances where a criminal defence lawyer needs to specifically advise her client about the use of social media while facing a criminal charge.  For instance, let’s take the case of a client facing a domestic assault charge.  A typical bail condition is that the client is to have no direct or indirect contact with the complainant.  In the ‘old days’ a lawyer might explain the meaning of this condition by giving a client examples such as not calling the complainant on the telephone (direct communication) or sending messages through a mutual friend (indirect communication).  But today does that really go far enough?  I believe that a criminal defence lawyer today needs to go further and advise her client to cut all connections on social media platforms with the complainant where a ‘no contact’ order exists.  This means ‘unfollow’ the complainant on Twitter, ‘unfriend’ on facebook, and ‘disconnect’ on LinkedIn.  Otherwise, the client risks being accused of having contact with the complainant and being re-arrested.

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