It is not uncommon for people to be familiar with one another without knowing each other’s names. As such, if a person witnesses a casual acquaintance committing a crime, the police and prosecution may rely on pictures or video to help the witness identify the offender. Recently, a Washington court addressed the issue of whether social media posts used to identify a criminal defendant are admissible as evidence in an assault case or if doing so violates the constitutional right to confront a witness. If you are accused of assault, it is vital to meet with a skillful Washington assault defense attorney to assess your rights.
The Alleged Offense
It is reported that in October 2017, the witness encountered the defendant, who she knew from high school, in a convenience store. She spoke with him briefly, and saw him make gang signs. Before he exited the store, she saw one of his friends had lifted up his shirt to reveal a gun. The friend then gave the gun to the defendant.
Allegedly, the witness saw the defendant point the gun at a car and heard shots being fired. Bullets hit multiple windows on the vehicle. She then called the police and reported what she witnessed but could not recall the defendant’s name. When she spoke with the police in person, she showed them pictures from the defendant’s social media account. The defendant was charged with assault and unlawful possession of a firearm. He sought to suppress his social media posts from being introduced at trial, but his motion was denied. He was convicted, after which he appealed.
The Use of Social Media Posts in Criminal Trials
On appeal, the defendant argued that the use of records from his social media accounts was improper. Specifically, he alleged the prosecution failed to satisfy the requirements for introducing such records without testimony from the custodian, in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. The court disagreed and affirmed the trial court ruling.
The court essentially stated that even assuming an error was committed, it did not warrant a reversal. Under the harmless error standard, the party offering an issue for review must demonstrate that it is reasonably probable it materially impacted the outcome of the trial. Here the court found that the evidence did little to support the witness’ testimony, and therefore, the error was harmless. Accordingly, the court found that any error did not impact the defendant’s Constitutional rights and affirmed his conviction.
Confer with a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington
The State is limited in what evidence it can introduce against a criminal defendant at trial, and it is important for people charged with crimes to understand their rights. If you are faced with assault charges, it is in your best interest to meet with a lawyer about your options. The knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White can assess the circumstances surrounding your charges, and help you to seek the best outcome possible in your case. You can reach us via our online form or by calling 253-363-8662 to set up a conference.