How Social Media Can Affect Your Criminal Defense Case

Posted On June 3, 2023 Criminal Defense by John Allen Phebus

Social media has had a major influence on the world, including the criminal justice system. Social media activity is admissible as evidence in a criminal case in many circumstances. If you get arrested for an alleged criminal offense in Arizona, it is important not to post about your case or situation on any social media platform. Otherwise, you may find your own words and social media activity used against you by a prosecutor.

Is Social Media Content Admissible as Evidence in the Criminal Courts?

Yes. Social media content of any type meets the definition of evidence under both Arizona and federal law. Arizona’s rules of evidence state that any information, documentation or item that makes the existence of a fact more or less probable can be admitted as evidence. This can include photographs, videos, written words, voice recordings, DNA evidence, witness testimony, documents and tangible objects. Under these rules, social media content falls under the definition of evidence and can be used against a defendant in a criminal case.

If the prosecutor successfully argues that a piece of social media content is relevant to the case – such as to establish the credibility of a witness or to prove or disprove a disputed fact – the courts will most likely admit it into evidence. An item or document can be used as evidence in a criminal matter even if it only has a slight tendency to prove or disprove a relevant fact. However, the prosecution must first authenticate the social media evidence (prove its authenticity) to have it admitted. The prosecution must also obtain evidence in accordance with the federal rules of civil procedure.

What Will a Prosecutor Look for on Social Media Profiles?

If you get arrested for allegedly committing a criminal offense in Arizona, the prosecutor will have the discovery period to search for evidence to use against you. This can include evidence gathered online that supports the prosecutor’s case. The prosecution can scour all of your social media profiles – including TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and Reddit – to search for anything relevant to the case. This may include:

  • Posts and status updates
  • Photographs
  • Tagged photos
  • Video footage
  • Comments and replies
  • Hashtags used
  • Your comments on someone else’s profile
  • Location check-ins
  • Private or instant messages
  • Deleted content

If any social media activity could potentially demonstrate your character, prove your unreliability as a witness, show an inconsistency in your story or be relevant to your case in other ways, the prosecution can submit it as evidence. This includes social media profiles that are set to private and content that has been deleted. You must be careful what you post – or not post at all – while a criminal investigation or case against you is underway.

Protect Your Rights by Avoiding Social Media After an Arrest

Things that you post on social media could unintentionally support the state’s case against you. The best way to protect yourself is to stay off of social media entirely if you have been accused of a crime or arrested. Even something that seems innocent or unrelated to your case could potentially be twisted around and used against you by a prosecutor.

It is also important not to delete anything that you feel could be incriminating from your social media accounts after an arrest. The prosecution can still obtain deleted information, and you may then face additional charges for the destruction of evidence. Contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to help you build a defense if you’ve been arrested in Arizona.