Can Facebook and Instagram Messages be Used Against You in Court?

The Chicago business couple has had a lot of ups and downs in their relationship. They met on a popular dating app and thought perhaps they would finally find someone with whom they were compatible. The woman moved into the man’s condo. Unfortunately, as time went on, his abusive habits began to surface. At first, he started controlling who she spent time with on her phone. Then he became more physically abusive.

She decides that it is time to call the police, but she does not have any hard evidence that physical abuse occurs. She does have messages on Telegram from a user going by an anonymous name who has been harassing her. She knows that the user is her boyfriend because the account is sharing specific details of the physical abuse and threatening her if she goes to the police. She assumes that these messages are enough to prosecute her boyfriend, but the issue of establishing the foundation of the evidence comes up.

Are Social Media Messages Admissible in Court?

Before an attorney can submit evidence in court, they must lay the evidence’s foundation. Illinois Supreme Court rules of evidence 901 show that the evidence is indeed what they purported it to be. Establishing the foundation indicates that Facebook, Telegram, text, or other electronic messages are what the proponent claims. Once authenticated, the jury can hear the evidence.

A Recent Illinois Supreme Court Ruling Sheds Light on This Issue

Until recently, the Supreme Court of Illinois did not have a clear standard for authenticating social media messages. In People v. Brand, 2021 IL 125945, The Supreme Court addressed whether the prosecution properly authenticated or laid the foundation for Facebook Messenger messages. In this case, the prosecution introduces evidence between the alleged victim of domestic abuse whose vehicle was stolen and messages from someone called “Masetti Meech” on Facebook messenger. The alleged victim claims that she knew that the person behind the account was the defendant and regularly communicated with the defendant on Facebook Messenger.

In this case, the Supreme Court found that the prosecution had properly authenticated the messages because the evidence was admissible as documentary evidence, despite being digital evidence. Additionally, the court found that the prosecution had provided enough circumstantial evidence to establish that the messages were from the defendant, as the prosecution claims.

Some of the circumstantial evidence included the messages containing information that corresponded to the streets where the victim had lived and worked. As a result, digital messages are considered documentary evidence in Illinois, and they are subject to the same authentication standards as any other type of documentary evidence. If you would like to present Facebook messages in your case, you will have to demonstrate with circumstantial evidence that the evidence is what you claim it to be before you introduce it.

Contact a Skilled Chicagoland Attorney

At Glasgow & Olsson, our award-winning criminal defense lawyers have a proven track record of success in many high-profile state and federal criminal cases. Contact Glasgow & Olsson today to schedule your initial consultation to learn how our legal team can fight for your rights if you have been charged with a crime.

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