Last week, a criminal court judge in New Hampshire ordered Amazon to release recordings collected by an Echo device that was in the home of a murder victim. The Echo device, the court argues, may have recorded the murder of the victim, and the recording should be available as evidence of the crime.
Murder, clearly, is one thing, and use of evidence in criminal courts is highly case-specific and very carefully considered. But in any type of legal matter, and in day-to-day activities…we live in a time when digital information sharing is constant. And if involved in a legal matter of any kind, no matter how small, each party must think about every single piece of information actively or passively posted to social media or other digital outlets, including texts and fitness tracking applications.
The quickly-changing nature of apps and use of social media has created challenges in legal proceedings as courts decide how to handle evidence collected by new and always-changing technology under long-standing rules and procedures governing the use of evidence. That being said, rulings about the use of digital evidence are often inconsistent, since the rules can’t keep up with evolving technologies. Judges have permitted the use of instant messaging and electronic chats as evidence in a recent child abuse case, and in a 2018 assault case in Queens, a screenshot of a text message was used as evidence of an admission of guilt by the accused party. Digital evidence has been used to prove that a party was hiding assets stolen from his employer, and pictures posted on social media, even when not “shared” with other parties to a lawsuit, have been used as evidence of extramarital affairs or perfect health in personal injury suits.
While courts continue to evolve their own set of laws guiding the use of digital evidence, users of technology….BEWARE! While marriage might not be forever…the risky Snapchat posts are.
Kathleen Linnane is the Managing Partner of Linnane & Associates. Check back for our weekly blog updates about current legal issues of interest, and how changes and updates to the law might affect you and your community.