Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Lessons From a Criminal Court Decision on Authentication of Social Media Evidence at Trial

In the case of Commonwealth v. Danzey, 2019 Pa. Super. 152 (Pa. Super. May 9, 2019 Bowes, J., Shogan, J., Kunselman, J.) (Op. by Shogan, J.), the court addressed the admissibility of Facebook and Instagram posts in a criminal case.   The court noted that such evidence may be authenticated under Pa. R.E. 901 pertaining to authentication of evidence.   

It is likely that, if such issues were addressed in a civil court proceeding, the courts will issue a similar ruling.  

In this case, the Defendant was charged with stalking and harassment and had filed a pre-trial motion to exclude 16 electronic communications directed at the victim, including Facebook and Instagram posts.  

After reviewing previous criminal court decisions including In Re: Interest of F.P., involving computerized instant messages, Commonwealth v. Koch, involving cell phone text messages, and Commonwealth v. Mangel, involving Facebook posts, the court noted that the evidence in this matter was properly admitted.  

In this case of Commonwealth v. Danzey, the district attorney had presented evidence that the Defendant owned the relevant social media accounts.  

There was also additional corroborating  evidence that the Defendant was indeed the author of the posts.   Each post was noted to contain clues that linked the Defendant to the victim and referenced their relationship.    

The court noted that the clues in the posts, taking together with the testimony provided by the victim’s sister, supported the conclusion that the Defendant had authored the messages such that the messages were authenticated and, therefore, admissible.  

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this case may click this LINK.

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