A United States Federal District Court judge has ruled that photos and other information obtained by police using an undercover Instagram account could be admitted into evidence in court despite the fact that this information was obtained without the authority of a search warrant. In that case, the judge ruled that the prosecution could admit into evidence photographs of property that was allegedly stolen and then photos of that property was subsequently posted on the defendant's Instagram account, thereby linking him to the theft. The court reasoned that the defendant's "consensual sharing" of this information removed it from the typical protections of the rules of evidence that would require a search warrant in order for police to obtain such evidence from the defendant's possession.
This case is important to criminal and civil cases alike as it demonstrates the emerging trend that information posted on social media accounts are considered to be in the public domain and are not afforded much in the way of protection in the law. In this case the police used a fake social media account to connect with a suspect and then sorted through his posts until they found photos he had posted of property he is alleged to have stolen. We expect this trend to continue and to permit an insurance company or defense lawyer in a workers' compensation or personal injury case to sort through the posts of a client looking for information to use against the client who is alleging personal injury.
For example, a client who was injured at work and sustained a back injury might have good days and might have bad days relative to their pain and level of disability. On a good day, that client might go bowling or skiing and post photos or status updates on social media telling his/her "friends" about what he/she did that day. The emerging trend as it relates to discovery of this information might permit an investigator or an insurance adjuster or opposing attorney to create a fake social media account that would be used to connect with the client and then look for information like this to use against that person in a trial or other proceeding concerning the injury claim. For this reason, it is imperative that clients be wary of who they befriend on social media during the pendency of a claim and the better practice is to stay off social media entirely if you are involved in litigation or anticipate that you may become involved in litigation regarding a personal injury claim.
Click here to read an article discussing the Federal Court Instagram case if you have an interest in learning more about this subject, or contact the Cleveland personal injury attorneys at NRS by filling out our contact form or calling (855)GOT-HURT.