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There has been some concern lately among attorneys regarding social internet networking and how it can either help or harm a legal case. An recent article in the Tampa Tribune / Tampa Bay Online gives some examples of how evidence obtained through facebook and myspace can be used.

One example is where evidence from facebook was used to attack the character of a criminal defendant in the sentencing phase of a criminal prosecution for DUI with serious bodily injuries. The criminal defendant is a 20-year-old college junior who, two weeks after being charged for a DUI collision that seriously injured a woman, attended a Halloween Party wearing a black and white striped shirt and an orange jump-suit labeled “Jail Bird.” Photographs from the party were posted on Facebook and this evidence was used by the prosecution to paint the defendant as unremorselful and careless. It showed the defendant having a good old time while the victims suffer. In this case, the Judge sentenced the defendant to two years in prison and described the pitcures as depraved.

In a California criminal case, a recent college grad charged in a fatal drunken driving crash, walked into a defense attorney’s office. After discovery that the client had a myspace page, the attorney advised her to immediately shut it down. But, she did not shut it down. The prosecutors used photos from her page that were taken after the crash depicting her holdinng a beer bottle, wearing a shirt advertising tequila, and wearing a belt with shot-glasses on it. The pictures were used in the sentencing phase and she was sentenced for more than 5 years in prison – a sentence that was later shortened, but for other reasons.

Social networking has also had an impact on personal injury, family law, and other types of cases. Impeachment material, character evidence, and devastating admissions by party opponents can all be obtained by a few minutes of computer research. And, as we see above, it allows prosecutors to seek harsher sentences.

The director of the cyberlaw clinic at Harvard University is quoted as saying, “Social networking sites are just another way that people say things or do things that come back and haunt them.”

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