According to a LexisNexis survey of 1,200 law enforcement professionals, approximately 83% use social media when working on cases. With so much data being created every day, that number is only going to increase. Think for a moment on your public Facebook profile and what is available to defense attorneys, should they decide to look you up. What would they find?
Trawling through a defendant’s social media can be a goldmine for attorneys. Let’s talk about this in the context of personal injury cases.
Here is a hypothetical example. Deborah Defendant claims she was rear-ended at a red light and has $30,000 in medical bills. She swears during her deposition that she can’t walk for more than 10 minutes without pain, she can’t raise her right arm higher than her shoulder, and she is housebound because of her limitations.
Your dutiful paralegal decides to check Deborah’s available social media profiles to see what she’s like when the lawyers aren’t looking. She finds pictures of a Disney World vacation from three weeks prior, showing Deborah walking down Main Street, USA, and there are even pictures of her on a ride with her arms above her head.
What Else Can You Find?
Many defendants have not realized how public their lives are online. They post pictures of themselves drinking alcohol while on probation for a DUI, party pictures when they’re supposed to be on house arrest, or mock the judge on Twitter. While some people are getting smarter and updating the privacy settings on their accounts, most think that their activities will pass under the radar.
And that’s just publicly available information! You might also find it necessary to request information from opposing counsel, which could include documents from an entire social media profile compressed into a Zip format. By making a formal request, you can get a real view of defendants. This might be necessary if someone has an online profile under a fake name or the oh-so-clever “First Name + Middle Name.”
As defendants are posting photos and status updates of their lives, they should know that anything they say can be Exhibit A in a trial against them. As a member of the Texas appellate court said after a defendant posted pictures of himself robbing someone, “Vast online photo databases and relatively easy access to them will undoubtedly play an ever-increasing role in identifying and prosecuting suspects.
When working on cases, make sure to take a few moments and see what is publicly available online. You will be quite surprised by what defendants unwittingly do to help you.