SHE’S THE LAW: Get To Know Your Rights & Responsibilities For Crimes Shared On Social Media

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Unfortunately, as a society we have become privy and numb to criminal activities being broadcasted over social media. They range from fights on Worldstarhiphop.com, to husbands confessing to gruesome crimes and displaying dead bodies on Facebook.

Most recent, was the saddening and disturbing Facebook post of Merrick McKoy holding his daughter, 19 month old Mia McKoy – Phanthavongsa along with the following status update: “Don’t judge me had no choice” and “I told u I can’t live without u lol u thought I was joking now me n Mia out this b—-.” McKoy, who was issued a restraining order to stay away from the mother of his child, unexpectedly showed up to their apartment with a gun. While the mother, Kim Phanthavongsa, ran from the apartment calling 911, she heard the single gunshot that killed their daughter.

There are so many facets to just how social media plays a part in potential new laws aimed to circumvent violence and harassment. Additionally, there are also constitutional arguments surrounding the protection of certain statements and posts, no matter how disturbing they may be. Here are a few things to consider if you ever read a disturbing post involving a crime or intentionally post videos or statements that may be criminal in nature.

What does this mean?

From the standpoint of being the person who commits a crime and posts a statement or video pertaining to that crime on social media, it must be realized and understood that from a litigation standpoint, both in civil and criminal courts, this information may be highly relevant to all cases against you. It baffles me that individuals will not only videotape themselves committing a crime, they will then spread such footage to social media and also websites that glorify and promote said behavior. You have got to be dumber than O Dog from Menace to Society for said behavior.

Alternatively, if you are a person who filmed a criminal act, knowingly or unknowingly and posted it on social media, you may be subpoenaed by a court so that this information and evidence can be obtained during the discovery phase of a trial against the alleged criminal.

As we are now commonly seeing news stories about law enforcement using social media to investigate, arrest or prosecute criminal defendants. Some of these cases are starting to raise interesting constitutional issues as well. According to ediscoverylawinsights.com, one such case relates to Cameron D’Ambrosio, a high school senior who was arrested for “communicating terrorist threats” through music lyrics that were posted to his Facebook page.

So not only are blatant visuals of criminal activity on social media being utilized to prosecute and investigate crimes, lyrics, statements and other forms of written communication on social media are also possible traps for harassment prosecution.

How does this affect you?

The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, developed a manual to address some issues surrounding social media and criminal activity. The publication noted that many police departments are experimenting with social media—and they emphasized the word “experimenting.”

“Some departments are using social media far more extensively than others, and development of formal policy on social media is generally lagging behind practice. A variety of legal, civil rights, and privacy-related issues regarding social media have been raised, but these issues are nowhere near the point of resolution in the courts yet. Many departments’ initial efforts to use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have been for the purpose of disseminating information to the public about crime issues, crime prevention programs, and police department activities. There has been much less discussion of police use of social media for other purposes, such as preventing and investigating crimes, in which the police are gathering information rather than disseminating information.”

So what does all of this mean?

You have to be extremely cognizant of your surroundings. As young women, we should not put ourselves in predicaments to even think about videotaping criminal behavior and/or participating in criminal behavior (yes, fighting included) where it can be uploaded to social media and go viral. As courts seek to determine the role social media and constitutional rights play together in preventing, reporting and displaying criminal behavior, it is best to err on the side of caution and exercise responsibility to yourself and your community by not placing yourself in certain unfortunate circumstances. Additionally, if you happen to have information about a crime, don’t post it on social media, take it to the proper authorities so they may do their jobs.

Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.

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