Friday, May 6, 2011

Maryland's Social Media Evidence Authentication Decision Provides Much Needed Guidance

Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals recently decided a case regarding authentication of social media accounts and the content contained therein. In Antoine Levar Griffin v. State of Maryland (No. 74, September Term 2010; filed April 28, 2011), the Court of Appeals held that"[t]the potential for abuse and manipulation of a social networking site by someone other than its purported creator and/or user leads to our conclusion that a printout of an image for such a site requires a greater degree of authentication than merely identifying the date of birth of the creator and her visage in a photograph on the site in order to reflect that [defendant] Ms. Barber was its creator and the author of the "snitches get stitches" language." (Griffin v. State, page 14 of the decision and page 16 of the linked pdf)

In the Maryland Daily Record, Maryland's main legal newspaper, there was a post on their Generation J.D. blog disagreeing with the Court of Appeals decision. The blog post states," Lawyers attempting to get social networking into evidence must contend with a group of judges who probably have never used a social networking site between the seven of them", and "The likelihood of fake pages and tampering is remote..." and "[g]iven the prevalence of social networking and the unlikelihood of false pages or fraudulent access..." and "[i]f any of them (Members of the Maryland Court of Appeals) have ever tried it (Facebook) out, or are active users, they are to be commended."

The above statements by John Cord demonstrate a lack of understanding of social media. Mr. Cord's post also states, " I'd love to be proven wrong." A less than 1 second Google search of "fake facebook profiles" shows that fake social media pages occur more often than than Mr. Cord states. It is very easy to create fake social media pages and have your social media account hacked. Fraudulent access to social media pages occurs more often then some may think.

In the Griffin case, the Maryland Court of Appeals spread their social media wings and demonstrated they understand some of the inherent dangers with unauthenticated social media pages. The Court was correct in determining that the prosecution should have utilized a different method to authenticate statements that appear on social media accounts and the Court offered several possible methods that may be acceptable.

A simple Google search and a thorough reading of the decision should have been done before criticizing Maryland's Court of Appeals and its judges. Before publicly criticizing a court and/or its judges, let alone the highest court in one's home state a lawyer should perform the utmost due diligence. #29 of Judge Dennis M. Sweeney's Rules For Courtroom Conduct states, "Remember that nastiness and rudeness rarely impresses the court or help your client. Courtesy is never inappropriate."

To learn how social media intersects with the law you may contact me at http://shearlaw.com/attorney_profile.

Copyright 2011 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.