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Social Media and Criminal Justice

Instagram is more than just a mobile photo and video social networking service. It has become a valuable source of evidence for today's law enforcement. There are numerous cases in South Florida where Instagram users have posted incriminating photos to the site; these photos have been instrumental in arrests and convictions.

Police and detectives have used warrants to access photos on Instagram- even for private profiles. Instagram maintains an "Instagram Law Enforcement Response Team" to coordinate the many subpoenas, court orders, and search warrants signed by judges that they receive. There is no true privacy on social media these days; even if your account is set to private, one of your many "friends" may report you.

Social media law is in its nascent stages, but it certainly has wide-ranging effects on the public, from First Amendment rights to self-incrimination. Take, for example, the case of Michele Traverso, who killed a cyclist in a hit-and-run car crash on the Rickenbacker Causeway in 2012. His probation officer found him breaking house arrest. The prosecutor later pointed to a Facebook "check-in" at Nikki Beach in March, as well as other photos on Facebook, to indicate that he may have been violating his probation for months without getting caught.

Allegations of criminal offenses should never be treated lightly- nor should anyone accused of a crime brazenly parade their illegal actions on social media sites. These posts do not disappear and can be used to build a case. In this time of emerging social media law and uncertainty, it's best to keep a low profile online. A good criminal defense lawyer can assist someone accused of DUI, but posting a photo of oneself leaving a bar fifteen minutes before being pulled over for drunken driving certainly will not help one's case.

Source:, "Instagram Equals Insta-Bust for Police in Miami-Dade," David Ovalle, 01 January 2015.

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Spatz Law Firm, PL
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