Friday, August 11, 2017

Are facebook posts admissible in court?

A Rockford, Illinois man was murdered in his driveway. A guy named Lorenzo Kent was arrested for the murder. At trial, the State introduced a screenshot of a facebook post from a profile under the name "Lorenzo Luckii Santos." The screenshot showed a photograph of a person who resembled Lorenzo Kent and the status update read "it's my way or the highway... leave em dead n his driveway."  

The trial court admitted the screenshot into evidence over the defendant's objection. The State argued that the facebook status was essentially a confession to murder. After reviewing the facebook status, along with other circumstantial evidence indicating that Mr. Kent had a tumultuous relationship with the decedent, the Jury convicted Mr. Kent of first-degree murder. 

On appeal, Mr. Kent challenged the admissibility of the facebook post. The Appellate Court explained that in order to be admissible at trial, evidence must be relevant and authentic. A confession would certainly be relevant to a murder trial, so the real issue was whether the facebook post could be authenticated.

Under Illinois Rule of Evidence 901, documentary evidence is authenticated if there is evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims. Essentially, the State had to prove that the facebook status was actually posted by Mr. Kent. Authentication of documentary evidence may be made by direct or circumstantial evidence, which is routinely the testimony of a witness who has sufficient personal knowledge that the item is, in fact what it is claimed to be. 

In this case, the State did not properly authenticate the facebook post. The State did not offer any evidence that Mr. Kent actually posted the status update. Instead, the only foundation for the facebook status was that a detective set up a false facebook account under the name Daquan Rogers using a fake picture. He then searched for people named Lorenzo. He found this profile for "Lorenzo Luckii Santos," whose picture appeared similar to Lorenzo Kent. Based upon the "leave em dead n his driveway" quote, the Detective concluded that this was a confession to murder because the victim was found dead in his driveway. 

The appellate court overturned the murder conviction. The Court did not say this specifically, but if the Detective could fabricate a fake facebook account using a fake picture, then why didn't he believe that anyone else could create a fake facebook account in an attempt to frame Lorenzo Kent? But then I guess that police officers play by their own rules.


Unknown said...

The last sentence bothers me. The article reads as a neutral reporting of the findings of the case until that last sentence. It's not a good idea to reveal an agenda when reporting the facts. It undermines the credibility of the post. It really seems out of place to put in a snide opinion out of nowhere.

Michael W. Huseman said...

That is a neutral report of facts. Police officers do play by their own rules. No other members of the justice system are allowed to regularly lie to accomplish their goals. Police officers, on the other hand, routinely lie as part of their investigative process. This method has repeatedly been upheld by the courts.

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