You tend to do most of your communication online. You don’t really like to make phone calls. You don’t mind text messages, but it’s often a lot faster to write on your computer, instead. As a result, you end up sending a lot of Facebook messages.
What you start wondering is if you’re potentially leaving a “paper” trail that could come up if you find yourself accused of a crime. Say the authorities accuse you of attempting to sell drugs when they find a large amount of drugs and money in your car during a traffic stop. Can they use your online messages as evidence in court?
They do count as evidence
If the police legally have access to those messages, they can use them in court. For instance, maybe the person you sent the messages to was an undercover police officer. They took screenshots and saved the information. If you get to court, it is legal for them to bring these messages up — even though you honestly thought they were part of a private conversation. This is also true if they have access to the messages through some other means, such as if another person whom you messaged gets picked up on drug charges and hands over the records to the police.
That said, it’s not always so simple. One of the biggest issues is proving the authenticity of the messages.
After all, Photoshop can easily make it look like a screenshot says anything at all. To the average person — i.e., the jury — it looks real. Did you actually write those messages or did someone doctor them after the fact?
On top of that, there have been cases where it’s difficult to prove who wrote the messages in the first place. Yes, they were on your account, but did you write them? Maybe you forgot to log off of your computer at the library. Maybe someone borrowed your phone. Either way, they sent messages from your account. You knew nothing about it. While it looks like you wrote them, you know that you never did, so simply supplying a screenshot of the message says nothing about any illegal action that you took personally.
A complex case
As you can see, all sorts of criminal cases — from money laundering to identity theft to drug sales — have grown far more complicated with the rise of the internet and social media. The authorities and the jury now have more to consider than ever, and evidence often comes from all manner of different sources.
If you find yourself in such a complex case, it is crucial that you understand exactly what legal defense options you have and what steps to take.