Can Your Facebook Or Twitter Handle Be Used Against You If You Committed a Crime in Florida? State V. Benedict Holds Clues…

June 18, 2012 by David S. Seltzer

If you’ve recently been arrested and accused of committing a criminal act in Florida, and your character has been called into question, can prosecutors use your social media login info – your “handle” on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc – to question your character?

This intriguing question was recently explored in the appellate case of Connecticut v. Benedict. Even though the Connecticut Court of Appeals just handed down a ruling, the case involved a debate over a MySpace login handle. That gives you some idea of how slow the legal process can sometimes move in criminal cases!

The case concerned a substitute teacher and athletic coach at a Litchfield, Connecticut high school, who allegedly sexually assaulted a 17-year old senior girl in January or February 2007. Several months later, the young woman went to state police to complain about what happened with her teacher. Benedict was subsequently arrested and hit with three counts of sexual assault. A jury trial resulted in a conviction and a one-year jail sentence to be suspended after 90 days.

Benedict took his case to the Court of Appeals. The ensuing debate may help you make sense of your Florida cyber crime charges. Benedict argued that the trial judge unfairly let the prosecution question him and the people he called as character witnesses about his MySpace login name, smoothcriminal77.

In retrospect, smoothcriminal77 was probably not an ideal login name! Prosecutors seized on the obvious implications to try to depict the defendant as a person with a criminal mentality.

During the appeal, Benedict cited a Connecticut Code of Evidence statute that says that evidence of a defendant’s character trait should not be admitted with respect to “proving that person acted in conformity with the character trait on a particular occasion with certain exceptions.”

The prosecutor said that, since the Benedict’s login was “smoothcriminal” -- and since Benedict had called several character witnesses “to say what a good person he is” -- then it was fair game to use his login handle to refute his testimony.

The Court of Appeals disagreed.

They reversed Benedict’s conviction and set a new trial based on the fact that “despite the state's attempt to identify an attenuated connection between his login identification of “smoothcriminal77” and the crime that he allegedly committed, we conclude that the login identification does not specifically relate to the trait for which the character evidence was permissible.”

The Court of Appeals said that the state “abused its discretion” in questioning the witnesses.

If you need help developing an articulate and strategic defense to a Florida cyber crime charge, the team here at Seltzer Law, PA, can provide a free, no nonsense consultation, any time of day or night. Call us immediately for help at 1-888-THE DEFENSE (888-843-3333).