Can What You Post Online Be Used Against You In Court?

Tuesday, February 17th 2009, 9:55 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The man arrested in the Cushing case is featured on a popular social networking site flashing a handgun.  It's not the first time a suspect's MySpace or Facebook page has raised eyebrows.  It raises the question:  can what you post online be used in the case against you?

Prosecutors say the simple answer is yes.  And, web users should remember what you post may not always stay private, isn't necessarily anonymous, and doesn't go away.

They're portals into someone's world:  their friends, their mood, their thoughts are captured on website like MySpace and Facebook.  And, sometimes they can offer disturbing insight.

Chad Barella was arrested in connection with a triple homicide in Cushing.  His MySpace profile picture is him posing with a handgun.

"I think anybody who is utilizing these services and thinks that they're not going to be under the focus of law enforcement, that they're not going to be paid attention by the district attorney's office they're sorely mistaken," said prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler.

Barella's MySpace page says his interests are money, guns and God.  In the about me section, it says "they say I'm a good guy and some say I'm a bad guy.  Tell you like this don't get on my mad side."

Tulsa County prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler says that is the kind of thing that could be used against you in a court of law.

"If these people want to come in and commit crimes and in addition give me some insight into who they are you, you bet I'm gonna use that against them," said prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler.

You might think MySpace is just for you and your friends or that your Facebook profile is private, but all that can change in an instant.  MySpace messages were used to convict former Hilldale band director Brian Giacomo of molesting his teenage student.

"What better way to corroborate a person's testimony than the words out of the mouths of the perpetrator on their own MySpace page," said prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler.

And, a word of warning for those addicted to posting party pictures and updating their status:

"There's two certain things in life:  death and taxes. I would add MySpace and Facebook to that. It's permanent and I'm gonna use it if I can find it," said prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler.

Some civil liberties groups like the ACLU have pushed back against people being punished for what they post online.  But, those have mostly been cases involving students and non-criminal activities.

And it's not just a judge and jury you should worry about, but a job.  Employers are increasingly checking these sites before they make hiring decisions.