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5 Case Studies of Social Media Evidence in Criminal Investigations

Law enforcement agencies across the nation are using social media to identify, detect and solve crimes. According to a recent survey by LexisNexis Risk Solutions of more than 1,200 law enforcement professionals with federal, state, and local agencies. 83% of the respondents are using social media, particularly Facebook and YouTube, to further their investigations. More than two-thirds (67%) of respondents believe that social media helps solve crimes more quickly.

This trend is also reflected in our ongoing survey of case law involving social media, where we recently identified 319 cases published in online databases in the first six months of 2012, which is about an 85 percent increase in the number of published social media cases over the same period in 2011, as reported by our prior survey earlier this year. About one half of those cases were criminal matters. As noted before, these are only the matters with published decisions that allow for us to see the facts of the case. As only a small fraction of cases involve an accessible published decision, it is safe to assume that several thousand, if not tens of thousands more cases involved social media evidence during this time period.

Below is a sampling of five recent criminal cases that illustrate both the importance of social media evidence to crime fighting and the diverse nature of cases involved. The published court opinions are publicly available via the hyperlink:

Bradley v. State

This is one of many recent cases where social media evidence was used to identify suspects and/or witnesses. In Bradley, the victim of an armed robbery identified his assailants through publically available Facebook photos. In its opinion denying Bradley’s appeal, the Texas appellate court pointedly noted that “Vast online photo databases—like Facebook—and relatively easy access to them will undoubtedly play an ever-increasing role in identifying and prosecuting suspects.”

Hoffman v. State

In Hoffman, an 18-year old female was convicted of vehicular manslaughter. The Court enhanced her sentence when the prosecution introduced into evidence her MySpace page with photos and comments glamorizing alcohol abuse.

US v. Anderson

Our survey results included several dozen cases involving child exploitation investigations. In US v. Anderson, a pedophile used Facebook to identify and lure victims.

People v. Mincey

After these sex offenders are convicted and released on probation or parole, they need to be monitored. There are many cases such as People v. Mincey where the defendant violated their probation by using and communicating on social media sites.

US v. Collins

In this court filing, it is revealed that the “Anonymous” hacker group employed Twitter to communicate and coordinate attacks: Terms of probation sought to prevent the defendants from using Twitter while on probation. Monitoring Twitter is a crucial capability for cybercrime investigations.

Click here for more published cases involving social media in 2012

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