How Do Social Media Posts Impact Criminal Cases in Virginia?

People across the Commonwealth of Virginia use social media to post updates about their lives and remain in contact with friends and family.

A user’s online profile can sometimes be one of the most honest depictions of that person, freed from the anxieties and responsibilities of in-person interactions. Throughout Virginia, civilians are signed up and regularly use social media sites and apps like Facebook, X, Instagram, Discord, and Bluesky. But can your posts online get you in trouble? Can they complicate your criminal defense case?

Social media has become an integral part of our lives, forever changing how we communicate, interact with others, share information about ourselves, obtain employment, and stay informed. However, the rise of social media platforms and our reliance upon those platforms can have significant implications and negative consequences in criminal law cases.

Social media posts can influence virtually all stages of a criminal case, from the collection of evidence to the selection of jurors. Discussion online can also sway public opinion, as well as spread misinformation about a case.

A suspect’s posts, direct messages, imagery, likes, and videos can be digital evidence in a criminal case. Law enforcement officers, legal teams, and other investigators are known to thoroughly review a user’s social media platforms to gain information that may be relevant to the case. Indeed, social media posts can have a huge influence on how an investigation plays out. Investigators may use a social media profile as a means to gather evidence, track movements, establish or destroy alibis, and identify potential suspects or witnesses. By sharing too much online, you might have made yourself vulnerable in investigating your case.

Additionally, social media posts by potential jurors could raise questions about impartiality and bias in a criminal defense case. Criminal defense investigators and attorneys look at online posting by potential jurors about issues that are relevant to the defendant’s case.

Defendants who use social media during a criminal case might accidentally and inadvertently hurt their legal defenses. Online interactions could be read as incriminating, contradicting, or even threatening. Most criminal defense lawyers advise defendants against using social media to discuss their cases in any detail.

What Online Activity and Social Media May Be Used as Evidence Against You in a Court of Law?

Police officers, prosecutors, and other law enforcement investigators are known to scour social media posts of suspects in pursuit of incriminating evidence, potential witnesses, and contradicting information.

Text posts, private messages, likes, bookmarks, images, and videos may be considered digital evidence that could be used against you in your case.

For example, if a suspect posts a picture of themselves using drugs or holding a gun, law enforcement could hypothetically use this post in their efforts to obtain a search warrant.

Social media posts can also establish a timeline for events. This could be used against defendants who claim to have not been drinking, but their social media profile shows them drinking immediately before an arrest.

If an individual gets into a physical altercation with another person and there is a social media post describing an intent to harm the victim, this could be used as evidence in the case.

Can Your Online Activity and Imagery Hurt Your Criminal Defense Strategy?

It stands to reason that you should not discuss an ongoing case online, but even your past posts can be used against you. For example, photographs of you drinking or holding alcoholic beverages can be used as evidence in a DUI case. Similarly, statements you make about your activities while under the influence can also damage your cause.

While it is possible that a social media post could help establish an alibi, it is more likely that social media will destroy an alibi. Essentially, social media establishes a timeline, particularly if you are posting about what you are doing at the moment.

What if Your Social Media Privacy Settings Are Set to Private?

Many people set their profiles to be visible only to close friends and family to protect their privacy. There is a misconception that keeping your status updates private protects you against the law. This is not always the case.

Not only can law enforcement view private posts with a search warrant, but it can be easy to backtrace posts through your friend list in order to see what you’ve been writing and posting. Ultimately, this can be achieved by the police with little effort at all.

Remember, just because it’s private doesn’t mean it’s out of reach. A judge can easily issue a subpoena that gives law enforcement access to your information.

What if You Delete the Posts?

Some people charged with crimes attempt to delete incriminating posts from their timelines. However, a subpoena may allow police to recover this information directly from the social media companies themselves. Additionally, the fact that you have deleted posts may be considered an intentional destruction of evidence and could result in harsher penalties if you are convicted.

What Are Useful Tips for Social Media Usage After an Arrest?

If you have already been arrested, here are several social media tips to consider:

  • Avoid sharing details about your charges with the public or friends. Only speak to your criminal defense lawyer about your case.
  • Consider adjusting the privacy settings of your account to limit who can view your information.
  • Do not accept new friend requests.
  • Do not delete content to conceal or destroy evidence.
  • You should really avoid using social media altogether until your case is resolved.

Contact Our Law Firm to Schedule an In-Depth Case Review Today

If you are facing criminal charges, your social media presence could help build a defense strategy, or it could be used against you and wreck your defense. Contact experienced criminal defense attorney Seth C. Weston to discuss your case in more detail before deleting or posting anything new to social media.

You may reach our law offices at 540-384-4585.