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Social media used as legal evidence

BY ANDREA MOORE amoore@paducahsun.com

Members of the local criminal justice community are seeing social media used more often as evidence in court.

"We do see Facebook postings quite often used to impeach witnesses, where witnesses testify to one thing and then are questioned on something that may be different than their testimony," said McCracken Circuit Court Judge Tim Kaltenbach.

Chris McNeil, directing attorney of the McCracken County Public Defender's Office, said he has seen Facebook posts in court more often.   

"We are seeing Facebook being mentioned in court in all kinds of different situations," said McNeil.  

Jamie Mills, a public defender in McCracken County, said he often uses social media to impeach witnesses that he is cross-examining.  

"I always check social media, particularly in juvenile cases, before anyone testifies," said Mills.  "I also use it to see if a witness has any bias."  

The Supreme Court of Kentucky issued an unpublished opinion in Simmons v. Commonwealth, a case that originated in McCracken County Circuit Court, that involved Facebook posts being used as evidence.  

In the Simmons case, the posts were used to convict a man of first-degree sexual abuse, third-degree sodomy, third-degree rape, and of being a second-degree persistent felony offender.  The court ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and properly admitted the Facebook messages as evidence.  

"Facebook is a great investigative tool," Paducah Police Department Detective Justin Crowell said. "It is generally speaking something that you will try to check when investigating a case. "

Crowell said that detectives often use social media to investigate allegations and sometimes it can help prove or disprove cases.  He said detectives will submit social media to prosecutors.      

Kentucky State Police Detective Sgt. Dean Patterson said he turns to social media in the vast majority of cases. 

"We use social media as a tool to get circumstantial or exculpatory evidence," Patterson said. "Many times in the early stages of an investigation we use it to get a lead."

Patterson explained that social media time stamps when someone has logged on and where they have been.

"Our intelligence analysts dig up all they can when investigating a case," he said.

Contact Andrea Moore, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8684.

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