Social Media Evidence to Prosecute Criminal Charges in NJ
December 3, 2023
In Forbes magazine’s “Top Social Media Statistics and Trends of 2023,” of the nearly 8 billion people on earth, about 4.9 percent are social media users. Far from its early use of connecting with friends and family, social media has nearly limitless benefits for personal and business pursuits. At the same time, platforms that encourage showcasing lifestyles and business offerings expose users to a false sense of security and privacy that can cause unexpected harm. The digital world online, including direct messaging, emailing, and posting, is a plentiful source of incriminating evidence when people freely harass or threaten others and confess their illegal habits.
Facing Criminal Charges Resulting from Social Media in New Jersey
Harassing Someone on Social Media
Harassment is common in the domestic violence realm when intimate couples turn to threats to harm another physically, financially, or otherwise when their relationship sours. Cyber-harassment is the same concept but occurs via digital means, typically via texts, emails, and social media. N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1 criminalizes online communications intended to threaten the person or property of another. A violation of 2C:33-4.1 carries up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000.00 fine for a fourth-degree crime.
Stalking Someone on Social Media
Related to harassment is stalking, which is repetitive (two or more) verbal or written threats to another person (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10). So, an intimate partner or a stranger may contact a victim on social media through direct messages and threaten to harm them physically, ruin their reputation, harm their loved ones, or destroy their property. When threats continue, the victim may report them to law enforcement. Stalking is either a fourth or third degree crime, the latter punishable by three to five years in prison and up to $15,000.00 in fines.
Threatening Someone on Social Media
Another crime is terroristic threats codified as N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3, which are threats to terrorize another with fear, whether that is threatening to kill someone or inflict pain or major public inconvenience by other means, bomb threats, or other damage. For example, a disgruntled employee writes a threatening social media post about blowing up their place of employment, knowing that their boss or ex-lover can read the post may be a terroristic threat. Someone who commits terroristic threats faces a third- or second-degree crime, punishable by up to ten years in prison and up to $250,000.00 in fines.
Social Media Evidence of Child Pornography Involvement
Also on the rise are crimes revolving around child endangerment with the proliferation of child pornography production and distribution. An entire criminal industry of Internet pornography has law enforcement units working full time on prosecuting endangering the welfare of a child violations, which are second-degree crimes.
Using Social Media to Steal or Commit Fraud
Additionally, federal and state investigators work full-time hunting down Internet scammers on theft and fraud charges for phishing and other illegal activities online. N.J.S.A. 2C:21-17 punishes identity theft, and N.J.S.A. 2C:20-25 for other computer crimes. Individuals may obtain information from social media profiles and contact them through direct messaging to click on links and save their social media page, which turns out to be scams to access a victim’s computer and personal information.
Are Text Message Admissible in Court in NJ?
Social media posts are evidence in a court of law, so long as the state can authenticate the evidence per the state’s evidentiary rules. In other words, the state must show how law enforcement obtained the evidence to connect the social media communications to the defendant. Moreover, the police must obtain private social media posts legally, namely, by a wiretap and not a mere communications warrant.
Do You Have Privacy on Social Media if You are Facing Criminal Charges in NJ?
The New Jersey Supreme Court recently decided that a communications data warrant requiring Facebook to turn over social media posts between two suspects within 15 minutes of their making on a private account was insufficient to protect other personal and privileged communications between spouses or attorney and client. Therefore, law enforcement must obtain a wiretap since watching near real-time communications between two suspects is equivalent to eavesdropping.
How can Social Media Incriminate You when Charged with a Crime in NJ?
When law enforcement investigates a crime, they often look at the accused’s social media profile and interactions. Law enforcement can find evidence of cybercrimes by searching social media profiles, phones, or computers. They may use posts or messages as direct evidence of a crime or the motive and intention to commit it. However, a social media post or message does not have to confess to a crime to be criminal evidence, namely, statements used against the defendant. Sometimes, an individual’s statement and the criminal circumstances incriminate an accused.
For example, an accused’s social media post may state that it would be a shame if something happened to a named individual when they attended a specified music concert. Should that named individual suffer injuries at the show when a gunman opened fire, the police could connect the post with the crime as evidence that the post author was somehow involved with the crime.
Written evidence of the harassment, stalking, and terroristic threats are the defendants’ digital writings in many cases of domestic violence or other issues. Social media photographs may also assist law enforcement in establishing possession of drugs or guns. For instance, a police investigation locates a drug ring and its operatives. A co-owner of the drug facility is not present at the drug bust and denies involvement with drugs. A review of the co-owner’s social media posts may reveal invitations to social media friends to purchase “goodies” with the mushroom emoji or photographs of the accused attending parties where drugs are apparently in use.
In addition to social media usage as evidence in criminal courts, texts, emails, and social media posts may be used in civil court as evidence of the need for protective orders in restraining order hearings.
Let our Attorneys Help Defend Your Criminal Case Involving Social Media in Burlington County NJ
Just as the attorneys for the defendants fought to protect the privacy rights and privileges of the defendants, you need a criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights when accused of a crime, supposedly evidenced by social media posts and communications. The state may not use illegally obtained evidence against you in court. At Proetta, Oliver, & Fay, our attorneys can protect you against unconstitutional infringement of your rights by filing a motion to suppress evidence obtained in violation of the law. When the police obtained your social media profile without a proper warrant or in violation of your privacy, we know what to do to challenge its admissibility as evidence. Not only that, our criminal defense attorneys are fully prepared to contest the validity and sufficiency of any social media evidence that the prosecution is seeking to use against you.
If you have a criminal case involving social media in Burlington County or Southern New Jersey, such as Pemberton, Mount Holly, Cinnaminson, Lumberton, Mount Laurel, Bordentown, Evesham Township, Burlington Township, and other surrounding areas, contact us now at (609) 850-8284 for a free and convenient consultation with a criminal defense lawyer.