People often say be careful what you post on social media. This is good advice. Although you may think your content is protected by the Constitution that is often not the case.
For example, in a recent case called Commonwealth v. Carrasquillo the highest court in Massachusetts determined that an undercover police officer could use a man’s Snapchat stories as evidence against him in a criminal case.
In this case, a police officer added Averyk Carrasquillo’s account on Snapchat. Carrasquillo’s account was private, but he accepted the add request. The officer added Carrasquillo using an undercover police account created to investigate potential criminal activity. Although the officer said he added Carraquillo randomly, he was quickly able to identify him from his stories. The officer happened to know him personally and remembered that he was convicted of a previous crime where he was forbidden from owning or possessing a firearm.
One day, the police officer viewed two of Carrasquillo’s stories. One of them featured a person he believed to be Carrasquillo carrying a silver revolver. The other was of Carrasquillo working out at a gym. The officer recognized the gym as a facility in Dorchester. He alerted other officers and Carrasquillo was arrested and taken into custody not long after.
How did Carrasquillo defend against the charges?
In criminal law an effective way to defend against criminal allegations is to exclude illegal evidence. Evidence is illegal if it was obtained by police in violation of the Massachusetts constitution or the Constitution of the United States. This is exactly what Carrasquillo’s defense lawyer tried to do. He argued that the police officer’s undercover activities violated the Fourth Amendment and the Massachusetts equivalent, both of which protect people from illegal searches and seizures.
Specifically, Carrasquillo’s lawyer told the Court that his client had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his Snapchat stories. The lawyer said that this expectation of privacy was violated because the officer searched Carrasquillo’s Snapchat without his permission. The government countered by arguing that Snapchat stories were not constitutionally protected because Carrasquillo let the officer view his content.
How did the Court decide the case?
The Court focused on determining if an illegal search took place. To answer this question it had to determine if Carrasquillo had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his Snapchat stories. It explained that reasonable expectation of privacy has two parts:
- Subjective expectation: Did Carrasquillo actually believe his Snapchat stories were private and not viewable by police?
- Objective expectation: Was it reasonable for Carrasquillo to believe that his Snapchat stories were private and not viewable by police?
The Court concluded that the answer to both of these questions was no.
Subjectively, Carrasquillo testified inconsistently about his Snapchat privacy settings. He didn’t seem to know who could see his content. As a result, the Court concluded that Carrasquillo did not have a subjective expectation of privacy. Objectively, the Court concluded that it was not reasonable for Carrasquillo to expect privacy in his Snapchat stories. Although Carrasquillo had control over his stories he consented to police viewing his content. He consented to this because he accepted the undercover officer’s add request. As a result, it was not reasonable for him to expect what he posted was private and not accessible to law enforcement.
So in summary the Court concluded that there was no unreasonable search. The Snapchat stories could not be excluded from evidence.
Why does this case matter?
The Carrasquillo case is important because it tells us that not all social media posts are protected by the Constitution. The lesson is to be very careful what you post. It is also important to be aware of your privacy settings on social media apps. However, always keep in mind that regardless of the evidence used against you there are often many different ways you can defend against a criminal charge. Consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who will advise you on your defenses.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH CRIME INVOLVING SOCIAL MEDIA, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.