The blogs on our website are always about family law, but the rules of evidence are important in all cases. In a family law case, the use of a Facebook post is often used to expose negative aspects of one of the parent’s behaviors. It is for that reason; I tell my clients to be very careful of what is posted on social media. The case of Lorenzo Kent highlights exactly why posts on Facebook should never occur. [2017 IL App (2d) 140917-State of Illinois v. Lorenzo Kent]
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Man Convicted of Murder Denies Facebook Post
The trial court heard the evidence against Lorenzo Kent who was accused of shooting and killing Donmarquic Jackson. Lorenzo was sent to prison for 55 years.
On the evening of May 6, 2013, Donmarquis was shot in the driveway of the residence he shared with his girlfriend, Doris Gregory, and her mother, Sally Gregory. Donmarquis did not have a good relationship with his former girlfriend, Kimiko Wilson, who was in a relationship with Lorenzo around the time of the shooting. Donmarquic and Kimiko had two children together. Two days before the murder, Lorenzo accompanied Kimiko to Donmarquic’s house and a fight ensued. That fight resulted in the shooting of Donmarquic and Lorenzo was arrested for his murder.
The State’s Evidence
The State claimed that Lorenzo had a Facebook account and that he posted a photo that resembled Lorenzo, along with a statement that said, “it’s my way or the highway…..leave ’em dead in his driveway.”
At trial, the defense argued that the State did not lay an adequate foundation to admit that Facebook post. The State represented that it would introduce evidence at trial that Donmarquis was killed in his driveway, the photograph in the Facebook post resembled Lorenzo, and that the Facebook records have an IP [internet protocol] address that belongs to Kimiko. The trial court ruled that the Facebook post was admissible “subject to foundational requirements” being met at trial.
The Facebook post was not the only evidence presented at trial. There were other witnesses and evidence. Officer Weber testified that the victim had five gunshot wounds. The medical expert testified that he died from a gunshot wound to his back, which went through his rib, heart, and lung.
Defense Objects to Facebook Evidence
The defense renewed its objection to the Facebook evidence during the trial. The State indicated that Detective Dwayne Beets would testify that he searched the Facebook website and found a profile under the name “Lorenzo Luckii Santos” with the defendant’s photograph and the relevant post. The court held that this was a sufficient foundation and allowed the post into evidence.
The problem of course is that anyone can set up a profile using an e-mail address. The detective testified how he had created a fake Facebook account which he uses for investigations. His own profile had a picture of someone else, and not his own picture, and the information is his account was all fake. Following the detective’s testimony, the defense renewed its objection to the Facebook evidence, arguing that there had been insufficient authentication. The Court overruled the objection.
The jury found Lorenzo guilty of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to a prison term of fifty-five years. On appeal, Lorenzo argued that the trial court erred in admitting a screenshot of a Facebook post on a profile under the name “Lorenzo Luckii Santos.” The screenshot showed a photograph of someone resembling the defendant and an undated post that states, “it’s my way or the highway…..leave ’em dead n his driveway.” The trial court deemed the evidence admissible “subject to foundational requirements” being met at trial. Lorenzo argued that it was not him and that the foundation used to put that evidence in was faulty.
Facebook Posts Qualify as a “Document” and Are Admitted in Trials
Case law shows that other courts have allowed Facebook posts into evidence. Email and text messages are treated like any other form of documentary evidence, and so long as a proper foundation can be made, those messages come into evidence. Usually, the testimony of a witness who has sufficient personal knowledge of the messages is enough to allow their entry into the court. If a witness testifies that they know the other person’s email address, or that they have received text messages in the past, that could very well be enough foundation to allow these types of messages into court. In Lorenzo’s case, there was no evidence that he created the Facebook page or that he was responsible for its contents. If the State had been able to show that Lorenzo wrote the post, it would be considered an admission of his guilt. What was critical in this trial was that Lorenzo never admitted creating a Facebook profile or making the post, and he was not seen composing the communication. The concern over authentication arises because anyone can create a fictitious account and masquerade under another person’s name or can gain access to another’s account by obtaining the user’s username and password, and, consequently, the potential for fabricating or tampering with electronically stored information on a social networking website is high and poses challenges to authenticating printouts from the website. Smith, 2012-CT-00218-SCT (¶ 19) (citing Griffin v. State, 19 A.3d 415, 421-22 (Md. 2011)). Here, the State offered no evidence that the defendant ever accessed Facebook or even used the Internet. At best, the photograph and the name on the Facebook profile are about the defendant and not evidence that the defendant himself had created the post or was responsible for its contents.
Appellate Court Finds That It was Error to Admit the Facebook Post
The Appellate court found that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the Facebook evidence and allowing the State to argue that the post was an admission by defendant that he committed the offense. Lorenzo’s conviction was overturned as a result.
DO NOT POST ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR CASE ON FACEBOOK
We see the errors committed by our clients daily now. Everyone is eager to share every activity, every conversation and everything that happens in their life on Facebook. If you are involved in litigation in the court system, stay off of Facebook. Do not tweet your feelings about your spouse. Don’t post pictures of your party. It is a . take and one you will regret.