Can Your Tweets Be Used Against You in Court?

by dave on July 6, 2012

The majority of what people put into the Twittersphere is pretty harmless and certainly not criminal. But the Manhattan District Attorney’s office wants to be able to subpoena your tweets and a state judge in New York has agreed.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, Malcom Harris, a “prolific tweeter” and part of the Occupy Wall Street movement was arrested along with about 700 people on October 1, 2011 on the Brooklyn Bridge. The majority of these arrestees were charged with disorderly conduct. Hundreds of the cases have already been dismissed. Harris’ charges, however, have not.

There is a lot of conflicting information about what went on on the bridge that day. Did cops tell protestors it was okay to use the roadway or did protest organizers lead protestors onto the street when they knew arrests would follow? No one knows for certain, but the Manhattan DA believes Malcom’s tweets may hold the key.

The District Attorney filed a subpoena directing Twitter to hand over the tweets from a now-closed account. Twitter said no. but Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. says they have to.

When you sign up for Twitter, you are ensured that your tweets are your property. If those terms of service are legally binding, Malcom should be able to “quash the subpoena as a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees a reasonable expectation of privacy,” say his defense lawyers.

But the DA doesn’t only want Malcom’s tweets from October 1.They want his direct messages (private messages not broadcasted to the public), and they want account information dating from September 15 to December 31.

Malcom’s attorneys tried to “quash” the subpoena but they were denied and told that he didn’t have any “propriety interest in the user information on his Twitter account.” In other words, it wasn’t his property to object on.

It isn’t clear what will happen at this time. Malcom pointed out to journalists that he is no attorney or judge and will wait for his lawyers to weigh in.

The charge he faces, disorderly conduct, is a violation and not a criminal charge. At the most, he could face up to 15 days in jail. However, the issue isn’t only what his penalty might be if convicted, but the precedent that the case will set for the role of social network “property” and what exactly the courts have access to.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry and this includes not incriminating yourself on social media sites. In other cases, police have already used Facebook posts to get warrants and prosecutors have used similar evidence to convince defendants into plea agreements.

The law can be confusing, particularly if you are the defendant in a criminal case. But no matter what charge you face, your attorney can help you understand the proceedings and work towards the positive resolution of your case.


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