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Facebook Provides Accused Criminal With An Alibi

by @ 12:02 pm on November 12, 2009. Filed under Facebook, Internet, Legal, Technology

Sometimes sharing the minutiae of your life with the world, can have unexpected benefits:

The message on Rodney Bradford’s Facebook page, posted at 11:49 a.m. on Oct. 17, asked where his pancakes were. The words were typed from a computer in his father’s apartment in Harlem.

At the time, the sentence, written in street slang, was just another navel-gazing, cryptic Facebook status update — meaningless to anyone besides Mr. Bradford. But when Mr. Bradford, 19, was arrested the next day as a suspect in a robbery at the Farragut Houses in Brooklyn, where he lives, the words took on greater importance. They became his alibi.

His defense lawyer, Robert Reuland, told a Brooklyn assistant district attorney, Lindsay Gerdes, about the Facebook entry, which was made at the time of the robbery. The district attorney subpoenaed Facebook to verify that the words had been typed from a computer at an apartment at 71 West 118th Street in Manhattan, the home of Mr. Bradford’s father. When that was confirmed, the charges were dropped.

“This is the first case that I’m aware of in which a Facebook update has been used as alibi evidence,” said John G. Browning, a lawyer in Dallas who studies social networking and the law. “We are going to see more of that because of how prevalent social networking has become.”

With more people revealing the details of their lives online, sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are providing evidence in legal battles.

Up to now, social networking activity has mostly been used as prosecutorial evidence, Mr. Browning said. He cited a burglary case in September in Martinsburg, Pa., in which the burglar used the victim’s computer to log on to Facebook and forgot to log off. The police followed the digital trail to Jonathan G. Parker, 19, who was arrested.

As part of his defense, a suspect in an Indiana murder case, Ian J. Clark, claimed he was not the kind of man who could kill his girlfriend’s child. But remarks he was found to have posted on MySpace left him vulnerable to character examination, Mr. Browning said, contributing to his conviction and a sentence of life in prison without parole.

In civil cases, too, online communications have helped strengthen evidence, especially in divorce cases, where they are often used as proof of cheating.

And postings by a probationary sheriff’s deputy, Brian Quinn, 26, of Marion County, Fla., on his MySpace page led to his firing in June 2006 for “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

Such cases are becoming more prevalent in part because Congress in 2006 mandated changes to the federal rules of civil procedure, expanding the acceptance of electronically stored information as evidence.

With the use of a Facebook update as an alibi, such communications may also be used to prove innocence, Mr. Browning said.


3 Responses to “Facebook Provides Accused Criminal With An Alibi”

  1. Matt says:

    Not cool at all actually. To drop charges on something that can be so easily forged is silly. I hope for the sake of that district attorneys office, they had other reasons to drop charges rather than solely that joke of an alibi.

  2. Matt has a valid point, in that anyone with the pw, could have made the entry to the Facebook page, however, it does create doubt.

    This use of web postings is a double-edged sword. Just as someone can piece together video and make it look like you are saying something totally opposite of your true beliefs, a belligerent government can do the same with your web posts. Don’t think that you will be protected by using fake names, either.

    Having the government recording all of the web traffic is now the norm. We need Congressmen who will step-up and reinstate Constitutional limits on government. During the Bush regime, the government began warrantless wire-tapping, including wholesale recording of web traffic, a violation of our Laws. The Obama Administration, so far, has not acted to reign-in these practices.

    It is refreshing to hear that some citizen, for once, is being given the benefit of the doubt based on computer traffic, rather than being hammered for some thought crime inferred from a review of his computer files.

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