As Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of public electronic communication embed themselves in people's lives, the postings, rants, and messages that appear online are often the first place police and prosecutors go to sift through after crimes, says the New York Times. This week investigators went online to make sense of a stabbing in an New York apartment. A few clicks away, some of the clues were there for the world to see.
Online postings can help prosecutors establish a level of intent, or even premeditation, in sometimes crucial components of crimes. In Arizona, Jared Loughner posted a message on his MySpace profile saying, “Goodbye friends,” hours before the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a note that prosecutors may use as evidence of premeditation. “Especially in gang cases, a criminal defendant will say, 'How do you know that's me?' and prosecutors will say, 'Here's a photo of you throwing gang signs, and here's a photo of you with known gang members, and here's a photo of you holding up the very type of weapon you claim never to have seen before,' ” said John Browning, a Dallas lawyer who wrote a book on social media and the law.