Facebook Posts Can Land You In Jail!

Did you know that a single Facebook post can land you in jail?  Its true, an acting judge in Westchester NY recently ruled that a ‘tag’ notification on Facebook violated  a protective order.  The result of the violation; second-degree contempt, which can lead to punishment of up to a year in jail.   In January, the a judge issued a  restraining order against Maria Gonzalez, prohibiting her from communicating with her former sister-in-law, Maribel Calderon.  Restraining orders are issued to prevent person from making contact with protected individuals.  Traditionally, courts interpreted contact to mean direct communications in person, mail, email, phone, voicemail or even text.   Facebook tags, however, present a slightly different form of contact.

Unlike Facebook messages, tagging someone identifies the tagged person on the poster’s Facebook page.  The tag, however, has the concurrent effect of linking to the identified person’s profile; thereby notifying them of the post.  Ms. Gonzalez tagged Calderon in a post on her (Gonzalez’s) timeline calling Calderon stupid and writing “you have a sad family.”  Gonzalez argued the post did not violate the protective order since there was no contact aimed directly at Calderon.  Acting Westchester (NY) County Supreme Court Justice Susan Capeci felt otherwise writing a restraining order includes “contacting the protected party by electronic or other means.”  Other means, it seems, is through personal posts put out on social media.

And Social Media posts aren’t just evidence of orders of protection violations, they are also grounds for supporting the issuance of restraining orders.  In 2013, a court granted an order of protection for actress Ashley Tinsdale against an alleged stalker.  Tinsdale’s lawyers presented evidence of over 19,000 tweets that the alleged stalker posted about the actress (an average of 100 tweets per day).

The bottom line:  Naming another on a social media post, even one that is directed to the twittersphere or Facebook community, rather than toward a particular individual,  is sufficient contact for purposes of supporting restraining orders or violations thereof.   We should all keep our posts positives –even more so if we have been told to stay away!!!

Should Courts allow Facebook Posts as Evidence of Lack of Remorse?

Last month Orange County Prosecutors charged Victoria Graswald with the murder of her fiancé Vincent Viafore.  Ms. Graswald allegedly tampered with Mr. Viafore’s kayak while the two were boating in the icy (yes again icy – see post below) water of the Hudson River. As a result, prosecutors argue, Mr. Viafore drowned.

Although Mr. Viafore’s body has yet to be found, prosecutors believed that Ms. Graswald’s inconsistent stories, and pictures she posted on Facebook after the accident were sufficient to indict her for her fiancé’s death.  They cite as evidence a picture of Ms. Graswald in a yoga pose against a bucolic setting and a video of her doing a cartwheel.

Facebook posts that demonstrate a lack of remorse have been figuring into criminal prosecutions for a while.  in 2011 Casey Anthony was indicted in the media for posts she shared of a “Bella Vida” tattoo she emblazoned on her back shoulder and pictures she posted showing Ms. Anthony partying while her daughter was still missing.   A California, judge sentenced a woman to 2 years in jail for her first DUI offense (typical first time offenders are given probation).  The judge cited a post- arrest picture the woman posted to MySpace while holding a drink.

But are Facebook posts, with all of their innuendo, a fair measures of guilt.   The Casey Anthony jury probably didn’t think so; although all we know for sure is that the posts, considered as part of the prosecution’s entire case, were not sufficient to lead to a guilty verdict.  And arguably posts, without a body, will not provide the lack of reasonable doubt necessary to convict Ms. Graswald.

But should these pictures hold the weight that members of the criminal justice system increasingly ascribe to them?  A problem seems to be context.  While the pictures seem damning when posted during or soon after an investigation, the evidence is circumstantial at best.  Absent testimony by the defendant corroborating his or her intent at the time of the post, (an event unlikely to happen) jurors can never be certain that the pictures demonstrate an expression of relief or a lack of remorse.

The issue of post-indictment remorse is transcends social media. Prosecutors recently introduced into evidence a picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (the Boston Bomber) flashing his middle finger into a camera from a jail holding cell.  But Tsarnaev’s attorney, like Ms. Graswald’s spun the picture in a way that suggests it has nothing to do with a lack of remorse.

And therein lies the problem, skilled attorney’s on either side can explain  pictures, and intent while posting them, from several different angles.  The issue becomes whether their value is sufficient to justify supporting an indictment for a crime? a conviction? or a sentence?

Thoughts?

From Twitter to Terrorism

A teen was arrested for Tweeting an airline terrorist threat. A 14 year old Dutch girl named Sarah with twitter name @QueenDemetriax tweeted to American Airlines the following: “@AmericanAir hello my name’s lbrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.”

In response American Airlines wrote to Sarah from their official Twitter account saying “we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.” Moments after their response, Sarah replied saying “I’m just a girl” and that her initial tweet was simply a joke that her friend wrote! She had also posted a tweet apologizing to American Airlines and stating that she is scared now.

Sarah turned herself in to the Dutch police station, where the police department stated that they are taking her tweet seriously since it is an alarming threat. The girl was charged with “posting a false or alarming announcement” under Dutch law. It was unconfirmed whether the FBI was involved or not but she gained thousands of followers on Twitter as a result of this incident. Could this be a new trend in order to gain popularity or recognition? Should Sarah be punished and if so how?

Update:

Others are now tweeting similar tweets @AmericanAir and other airlines. Kale tweeted @SouthwestAir “I bake really good pies and my friends call me ‘the bomb’ am I still allowed to fly?” Donnie Cyrus tweeted @SouthwestAir “@WesleyWalrus is gonna bomb your next few flights.” ArmyJacket tweeted @AmericanAir “I have a bomb under the next plane to take off” There are many other tweets with similar language all aimed at airlines.

There are no reports yet of any of these follow up twitter threats being reported to the appropriate authorities. Are these tweeters going too far? These tweets can potentially be translated into legitimate threats or have they now crossed into the realm of freedom of speech?

$70,000 Settlement for a Facebook comment

Minnewaska School District has agreed to pay Riley Stratton $70,000 to settle the 2012 case involving the former Minnewaska Area Middle School sixth-grader. Stratton is now 15 years old. According to the lawsuit Stratton was given detention after she posted comments about a teacher’s aide on her Facebook page. The ACLU claimed that the reason for originally viewing her page was due to claims that she was using school computers to talk to a boy about sex. However, Stratton used her own personal computer at home to make the post -not a school computer.
The nature of the comments which lead to detention about a teacher’s aide were supposedly disapproving. A disputed fact in the case was whether there was permission for the school to go through her cellphone and request passwords for her Facebook account. According to Minnewaska Superintendent Greg Schmidt “It was believed the parent had given permission to look at her cellphone,” but there was no signed waiver from the parent, and there was no policy requiring one.
The fact that the posting was made from her home was a deciding factor in settling the case, according to Schmidt. The reason for the lawsuit was because Stratton became too distraught and embarrassed to attend class or go to school. Since this settlement, the school has changed its policy. The school now requires parents to submit a signed permission waiver in order to look through a students cellphone. This case may be an example of schools overreaching their authority in punishing kids for activities outside of school, and especially for things that happen on social media.

#Famous on C-Block?… or a Jailhouse-Crock?

In 2008, Jodi Ann Arias put together an elaborate plan to corner her victim Travis Alexander and brutally stab him to death.  After 29 consecutive stab wounds, a slit to his neck nearly decapitating him, and a gunshot wound to the head, she watched him suffer and take his last breath.  She left him in the shower to rot, until he was ultimately found five days later in his Mesa, Arizona home.   Due to the heinous nature of the crime, and the fact that she was an “attractive” female, the case garnered enormous media attention.  After a lengthy trial, she was found guilty of first degree murder.  Currently, Jodi awaits her fate in the penalty phase as the Prosecutor Juan Martinez seeks the death penalty.

 As a convicted murderer, Jodi Arias has developed a large body of loyal followers via her Twitter page, which is run by a “friend”/previous fellow inmate.  She currently sells artwork on her website by using Twitter to advertise.  She also uses Twitter as a platform to: promote sales of her wristbands, taunt the victim’s family, solicit donations, poke fun at Prosecutor Juan Martinez, belittle her own attorney Kirk Nurmi, and flaunt her media coverage.  Should any of this be allowed to happen? 

 The Son of Sam Law, applicable in Arizona, prevents criminals from profiting from their crimes.  Although her artwork is not directly related to her crime, her Twitter account brings her enough fame to enable a healthy volume and a continuous flow of business. Should her horrendous murder be an outlet for her fame?  Is fame a legitimate form of profit? Would any of us ever know Jodi Arias if not for the gruesome death of Travis Alexander?   Should Jodi Arias have a voice to the outside world, after she extinguished Travis’ so horribly forever? Her latest tweet says she’s going “Radio Silent.”  Considering that jury selection begins soon, her sudden choice to “sign off” seems obvious.  Should such use of Social Media by a convicted murderer ever be allowed?

May it Please The Court, I’d Like to Tweet Now

Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court submitted a proposal to revise its current rules for expanded media coverage during courtroom proceedings, specifically addressing the use of smart phones, tablets and the like to live blog and tweet. With most of my courtroom experience to date taking place in NY and PA courts I found this to be quite interesting. Although some judges in NY and PA allow certain uses of mobile devices, most courts I have been in had a pretty strict no-cell-phone-use policy. I have, on more than one occasion, witnessed judges stop everything in order to reprimand an attorney or even a gallery member for not having their phone on silent. There are currently 36 states (see survey link below) that have a policy addressing the use Twitter in the Courtroom, but only a handful of those policies actually allow members of the media to use social media to report live from court.

One can immediately see at least some of the upside of allowing live tweets from court, as nationwide-dissemination of a tweet to the general public will grant them instantaneous access and knowledge of everything happening in the proceeding. However, one should just as easily be able to recognize some shortfalls of allowing the use of social media from live court. For instance, what if an empanelled juror came across certain blogs or tweets that affects their impartiality? Can justice truly be served or will the use of social media during a live trail put certain litigants at a disadvantage? With the exponential growth of social media and more and more people getting their news from social media platforms each year, it seems only inevitable that these are questions courts across the country will be facing in the near future. However, according to the most recent survey conducted by the CCPIO, an organization that partners with the National Center for State Courts, we are still further away than one might think from all courts hopping on the Social Media Train.

The Birth of RoboTweeting

NBC News reports that companies are becoming “Twitter-savvy” when it comes to consumer complaints.  In some instances customers logging complaint are retweeted with patronizing responses.  For example, according to the article, when @OccupyLA tweeted “you can help by stop stealing people’s houses!!” The Bank of America retweeted “We’d be happy to review your account.”  Corporate manipulation of Twitter is yet another example of how “the system” can corral innovative technology for its own use.   Gen-xers, hipsters and naughts have fled Facebook in droves  once businesses hijacked the social media.  Now Twitter.  Can Instagram be far behind???

New York City Restaurants Banning Food Photography

Do you take pictures of your food at restaurants? Plan on taking a picture of your Valentine’s Day dinner? You might be banned from taking that picture this Valentine’s Day. This is because New York City restaurant owners are banning food photography by customers. The restaurant owners don’t want people  posting pictures of their food on social media sites.  Is this fair? Should the practice be banned?  Read the CBS News story here, and comment on this post with your thoughts.

Social Media Firms are Moving into the Middle East

Social Media firms are now increasing their presence in the Middle East. The companies hope to capitalize on the recent popularity of social media in the region.  They are asserting their presence via digital advertising. Digital advertising has traditionally not been used in the Middle East.  According to The New York Times, print advertising, and television advertising, have been the main methods of advertising.   It will interesting to follow whether digital advertising will take off in the Middle East. Click on this link to read The New York Times article about the topic.