In-court Testimony v. Online Evidence

People v. Franco [2009]

In this instance of vehicular manslaughter, MySpace and Facebook posts were used to contradict in-court testimony; highlighting the increasing due regard, weight and importance given to authentic social media content in the courts.

The jury convicted the defendant of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence after Franco and the deceased were seen racing each other on a freeway. Both were reportedly travelling at speeds of 100 mph until Franco hit her brakes when Chavez was directly behind her, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and fatally crash.

In Franco’s in-court testimony she claimed she was driving at approximately 75 miles an hour when Chavez began tailgating her, tapping braked to decrease speed. Court records stated “She saw a plume of dust but kept driving as her boyfriend advised when she called him on her cell phone.” 

Conflicting Social Media Testimony

Yet in stark contrast to the version of events disclosed in the courtroom, the day before the accident, to her detriment, Franco posted on her MySpace Page stating; “If you find me on the freeway and you can keep up I have a really bad habit of racing random people.”

This important precedent illustrates the dynamic progression in the courts to utilising and accepting social media as evidence in litigation. Statements made on social media are applicable in court and, as in People v. Franco, may even be used to contradict in-court testimony. It also highlights the conflict and difficulty of individuals juggling conflicting online and offline personas; an individual may appear to be both a “secret” street racer, and allude to being a safe and cautious driver in court.

Had this evidence not been submitted to the court, the outcome of this case would have been extremely different; as a post may convey a conflicting (potentially incriminating) mindset of the author, and shows the openness of the courts to accept this content with due weight and importance and allow it to overrule in-court testimony.

If content from social media is authenticated and validated in line with the requirements of Rule 901, Federal Rules of Evidence, it may be submitted to the courts as admissible evidence. This case highlights the importance of that additional evidence in creating a full picture of the individuals on trial, their potential mindset and intentions and a well-rounded, fair trial.

 

The Role of WebPreserver

WebPreserver is an innovative eDiscovery tool, essential for the effective and easy creation of evidence from ESI and preservation of digital content for litigation purposes, aimed specifically at legal professionals, litigation support and law enforcement officials.

Snapshots of social media content are created and authenticated with the efficient and simple use of a Plug-in and single-click capture in line with Federal Rules of Evidence and other compliance standards, creating reliable evidence for litigation proceedings.

Snapshots are saved in both PDF and WARC formats and authenticated with the advanced technology of both an e-signature (in compliance with the E-Sign Act) and an automated time stamp giving integrity to content taken from social media. WebPreserver provides the additional resources of an online sharing platform where litigation support and legal professionals can share personal files of evidence with colleagues and clients, download them locally, and organise with keyword tagging.

The growing importance of social media content as evidence in the courtroom means that firms and law enforcement authorities should have a simplified, cost and time effective records management structure in place to ensure fair trials and outcomes - WebPreserver is the essential eDiscovery tool that provides such a service.

 

The information and materials on this blog are provided for general and informative purposes only and are not intended to be construed as legal advice. Content on this blog is not intended to substitute the advice of a licensed attorney, as laws are subject to change and vary with time, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Content on this blog may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct or up-to-date.

Digital Evidence: Preserving ESI Authenticating ESI - Rule 901a

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