The Maryland Court of Appeals held recently that the use of evidence found on social networking websites against a criminal defendant is limited, requiring proper authentication before such types of evidence can be admitted. In Griffin v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of the Defendant based on the fact that the trial judge had erroneously admitted a statement the Defendant’s girlfriend allegedly made on MySpace in reference to the Defendant’s case. The statement “snitches get stitches” was admitted into evidence based solely on the testimony of the investigating officer who discovered the material.
Federal and state police officers are becoming increasingly adept at discovering evidence for criminal prosecutions on the Internet, and prosecutors in the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Offices are readily adapting their cases to the use of that evidence to obtain criminal convictions. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney is important for an individual charged with a crime to have a fighting chance at maintaining his or her freedom, especially as the number of sources the State is finding evidence to use at trial is ever expanding.
In the Griffin case, the Defendant, nicknamed “Boozy,” was charged with murder. In the police investigation of the case, an officer discovered a Myspace page allegedly created by the Defendant’s girlfriend, on which the officer saw a posting that stated,
FREE BOOZY!!!! JUST REMEMBER SNITCHES GET STITCHES!! U KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!
The trial court admitted this evidence, which the State’s Attorney successfully as a “key component” of its case to prove the Defendant’s guilt. On appeal, the Defendant argued that the evidence from the MySpace page was not properly authenticated, and should never have been admitted.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the Defendant that the material was not properly authenticated under Maryland Rule of Evidence 5-901, reversing both the trial court and the Court of Special Appeals. Maryland Rule 5-901 provides that authentication of evidence is a “condition precedent to admissibility.” Authentication can be done a number of ways, including by way of testimony of a witness with knowledge that the evidence is what it is purported to be, and by circumstantial evidence that the offered evidence is what it is claimed to be. The Court of Appeals in this case held that the fact that the MySpace page was apparently that of the Defendant’s girlfriend was not sufficient to attribute the “snitches get stitches” statement to her. The Court noted that social networking sites are not necessarily secure, and that it is possible for someone to post material on the site anonymously, or even claiming to be someone else. The Court held that there was no supporting evidence, such as testimony from the girlfriend, evidence from the girlfriend’s computer hard drive, or even evidence from MySpace itself, that could authenticate the evidence appropriately for the criminal trial.
A Maryland criminal defense attorney experienced in the Maryland Rules is vital to protect the rights of individuals charged with criminal acts. The rules governing evidence are complex, and an attorney with the knowledge and experience to use these rules to fight for the client can make the difference between conviction and acquittal.