Case Law: Griffin v. State
Court Overturns Murder Conviction Finding MySpace Evidence Lacked Necessary Authentication
Griffin v. State, 2011 WL 1586683 (Md. Apr. 28, 2011). In this criminal case, the state's highest court granted the convicted defendant's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the trial judge's decision (affirmed on appeal) to admit electronic evidence obtained from a MySpace profile. Noting that the required level of authentication required for social networking site evidence was a question of first impression, the court held that the potential for manipulation in this context required greater scrutiny of the foundational authentication requirements than that of traditional records. Because the authentication of key electronic evidence based upon a picture, birth date and residence location alone provided an inadequate foundation, the court found the trial court committed reversible error, overturned the conviction and remanded for a new trial. However, the court suggested that testimony from the purported creator, a search of her computer or information obtained directly from the social networking website could suffice to authenticate electronic evidence.
As we have discussed rather thoroughly, social networking is becoming increasingly prevalent in civil litigation. However, we’ve first really observed the use of social media evidence in criminal actions, where it can be used to establish timelines and alibis, provide motive, etc. Per the case summary above, the trial judge’s decision to admit the evidence obtained from a MySpace profile that allegedly belonged to the defendant’s girlfriend was affirmed on appeal. One of the witnesses at trial claimed the girlfriend had threatened him prior to testifying at the first trial (which resulted in a mistrial) which is why his testimony changed. The State was permitted to introduce into evidence a redacted printout from the MySpace page for the purpose of corroborating the witness’ testimony. The page said: “JUST REMEMBER, SNITCHES GET STITCHES!! U KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!” The state’s highest court overturned this ruling, finding the authentication provided for the MySpace page was insufficient to build an adequate foundation.
Griffin is certainly not the first case in the criminal realm to use social media evidence. In People v. Liceaga, 2009 WL 186229 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 27, 2009), the prosecution sought to admit photographs discovered on the defendant’s MySpace profile of himself displaying a gang sign and the gun allegedly used to shoot the victim as evidence of intent. Social media evidence has also been used for sentencing purposes as demonstrated in United States v. Villanueva, 2009 WL 455127 (11th Cir. Feb. 25, 2009). In that case, the court found that post-conviction photos discovered on the defendant’s MySpace page of the defending holding a semi-automatic gun with a loaded clip after the defendant had been convicted of a violent felony could be used as evidence to enhance sentencing.