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Criminal defense in the age of social media, P.1

Social media, as far as we can tell, is here to stay, and has penetrated our lives so much that it has become a potentially important factor in both civil and criminal litigation. A recent example of how social media can impact the criminal process is the case of a Florida woman who was recently arrested for drunken driving after officers were alerted to her behavior by a 911 caller.

The caller had reportedly seen a video of the woman which was broadcast with a live-streaming app called Periscope. In the video, the 23-year-old is said to have repeatedly told viewers that she was driving her vehicle “drunk.” Police, once alerted to the situation, were able to identify the driver’s whereabouts from landmarks in the video. Officers apparently arrived in time to witness the woman hit a curb, and when they stopped her vehicle, they apparently smelled alcohol. Based on those factors, they arrested her on suspicion of drunk driving. 

The case is interesting from several angles, but particularly with respect to the issue of using social media as a factor in obtaining a conviction. In this case, could prosecutors use the live-streaming video as evidence of intoxicated driving if police had not been able to locate the woman’s vehicle before she arrived back home, presuming she made it back without incident? Would the woman’s claim to be driving while drunk constitute an admission of guilt in a court of law, or would officers need to have directly witnessed the admission themselves for prosecutors to rely on such evidence for a conviction?

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this case and the potential legal issues it raises from a criminal defense perspective. 

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