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Can A Facebook Post Truly Provide A Reliable Alibi? “Pancake” Case May Set Stage For Prosecution/Defense Face-Offs

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a fairly extensive post here entitled “Facebook Wall of Shame,” which I received a considerable amount of positive feedback on I might add.  Thanks to all of you for that.

In fairness to Facebook and its many, many, many users, I felt compelled to post something about the story of the New York lad, Rodney Bradford (19), who was charged with robbery.  When prosecutors discovered that Bradford had posted a response to that well-known question, “What’s On Your Mind,” the charges were dropped.

Apparently, the thing that was on Rodney’s mind was that he was craving pancakes.  Not a bad thing to have on one’s mind, and a great deal better than contemplations of robbery.

The story first broke to some fanfare – instead of Facebook being used as a prosecutorial weapon, it was now being used as a weapon of defense.  Hoorah!!  But were prosecutors too quick to drop the charges against Bradford?  As the dust settled, doubts in some people’s minds began to emerge.

For example, in “Facebook Wall of Shame,” I wrote about Jonathan G. Parker, who – while burgling a residence – decided to stop and check his Facebook account.  As if that weren’t bad enough, the lad (also 19 years old) left the Facebook window open on the victim’s computer.  Rather than providing an alibi, Parker provided his identification and proof that he had been in the victim’s home at the time of the burglary.

A good article about the problem with dropping the charges against Bradford in the New York case can be found in “Ars Technica,” by Jacqui Cheng.  Cheng writes, “…it’s obvious to everyone—including Bradford’s attorney—that the Facebook posting could have been made by someone else, and there would be no way to truly verify who was sitting in front of the computer at the time.”

Another good article discussing this issue is Kamika Dunlap’s article in “Findlaw Blotter.”  If one attempts to use Facebook activity to establish an alibi, Dunlap writes that they should be prepared to prove 3 things:

1.  That the account belongs to the accused person who is trying to exonerate himself or herself;

2.  That “the posting came from a computer affiliated with you.”  It would not be necessary to prove that the computer belongs to the accused, but it will be necessary to establish that the accused had access to the computer at the time he or she was alleged to be engaging in Facebook activity;

3.  The date and time of the exculpatory Facebook activity.  Facebook provides a date/time stamp for its user’s activities.  This information will need to be obtained from Facebook.

4.  “You will need to be ready to counter arguments that someone else may have done [the posting].”

Undoubtedly, more cases such as this one and those listed in the “Facebook Wall of Shame” will surface.  More postings to come on this fascinating and emerging sub-set of criminal law and procedure.  In the meantime, check out this interesting article at switched.com, called “Facebook Crime and Punishment.”

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