Government and Technology

Social media finds its way into court

April 11, 2014
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While character evidence is generally not permitted in the courtroom, there are a few exceptions.

Foster Swift attorney John Mashni said that, in a recent murder case — Gallaway v. State of Delaware — the defense sought to paint the defendant, who was on trial for the murder of his 3-year-old daughter, as grief stricken.

In response, the prosecution was allowed to submit a YouTube video the man had posted of himself following the girl’s death as a rebuttal to his claim that he was depressed and suicidal.

“The exception that applied here was that the defendant first brought up his own character,” Mashni said. “If the defendant brings it up, then the prosecution is allowed to rebut that evidence.

Once convicted, the defendant tried to appeal on the grounds that the YouTube video should not have been allowed in the courtroom, but the Supreme Court of the State of Delaware agreed the judge had the discretion to allow the video into evidence.

Mashni said use of the YouTube video at the trial serves as a reminder of how social media is making its way into legal cases and that people need to be careful with what they are posting online.

For instance, if someone is in a legal dispute over receiving workers’ compensation or disability, a video showing him or her playing basketball with friends could prove damaging to their case.

He noted criminal trials have more stringent requirements than other legal matters, and there are plenty of instances where social media might be used against someone — for instance, in a divorce.

“You never know how what you post online is going to be used.”

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