If You’ve Been Convicted of a Crime Stay Off Social Media
After being arrested and convicted of a crime in Texas, you probably assume that your experience with the criminal justice system concludes after you meet the requirements of your sentence. Once you serve your term of incarceration, pay the fines and/or restitution, and complete probation, it seems logical that the criminal conviction is behind you.
Unfortunately, this scenario may not play out how you expected. There are multiple collateral consequences that follow since a conviction remains on your criminal record. You may be required to disclose it, or the case may show up in a background check. As a result, you may encounter:
- Difficulties with employment
- Challenges in obtaining a mortgage, car loan, or other lines of credit
- suspension or revocation of professional or business licenses
- Many other ramifications
While there may be little you can do to change some collateral consequences, there is one thing you can do to support your interests after a criminal conviction in Texas: Stay off social media. Statistics gathered by the Pew Research Center indicate that 7 in 10 Americans use such platforms as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. When you join them, you open the door into your private life – which can be more damaging when you have been previously convicted of a crime.
After an encounter with the Texas criminal justice system, you want to avoid the kinds of activities that could raise suspicion. It is always wise to consult with a Galveston criminal defense lawyer if you have questions or concerns. Still, you should understand the various reasons to stay off social media after a criminal conviction.
Privacy Settings Are No Guarantee
Initially, you probably expect that you will not run into problems with social media posts because you made adjustments to your privacy settings. Depending on the specific platform, you can establish rules that prevent individuals and entities from seeing your posts unless you are connected.
The problem with this assumption stems from the fact that each social media platform is a network of individual users, each of whom can share with their own communities. Social media sites go to great lengths to encourage sharing – and they each encourage sharing among multiple social media platforms. To illustrate, track how that picture of you smoking a joint can travel:
- You text it to your friend
- Your friend shares to Facebook and tags you
- Your friend’s connections, whom you do not know, share to their own communities on Snapchat and Instagram
Now there are potentially hundreds of impressions of your photo, depicting criminal activity, across at least three social media networks. Worse, even a picture of you smoking a cigarette can be altered by others. Of course, experts can pinpoint the counterfeit, but the damage is done if you have already been arrested on new criminal charges.
Social Media Posts When on Probation
If your sentence after being convicted includes community supervision, i.e., probation, not complying with the court’s conditions could lead to legal trouble. The terms of your probation will most definitely mandate that you avoid another arrest and all types of criminal activity. Plus, you can also be sure your probation officer will be monitoring your accounts.
You may even be required to turn over passwords so that officials can access your social media profiles; in some cases, probation conditions may even include a specific requirement that you stay off social media.
If your social media posts or the activities that they depict constitute a violation of probation, your probation officer may institute proceedings for a revocation hearing. Possible outcomes include:
- The judge revokes your probation, so you will be subject to incarceration
- You could be released, but the rules of probation become even more strict
The Most Damaging Social Media Posts
Even if you realize that social media is not private, you may have reasons that you cannot avoid social media entirely. It is important to have the support of friends and family who can help you stay on track after a criminal conviction. You might need to interact on employment-based social media platforms or promote your own business to earn an income.
As such, if you do choose to engage with others on social media, you should be aware of the types of posts that can be most damaging to your interests post-conviction.
- Your Posts: Whether or not accompanied by visual content, posts about your personal life may reveal too much to officials that may be snooping around. The same goes for your comments on other users’ posts.
- Photos and Video: Besides images that depict you involved with criminal activity, you could also get into trouble if you post seemingly innocent pictures or video. For example, if you are not allowed to leave a particular jurisdiction, do not post content showing your previous vacations.
- Check-Ins: Just as photos and video can reveal your whereabouts, social media check-ins may place you somewhere you should not be.
- Employment Updates: It is important to abide by any restrictions on your employment and even more critical to not generate evidence of potential violations.
- Tags: Even posts by your friends might be problematic, so make sure your community knows to not “tag” you or otherwise indicate your presence in a certain place, just to be safe.
Social Media and Types of Crime
From the above description, you can probably guess how posting online can lead to encounters with police or other hassles. One obvious category of offenses where social media could play a role after a conviction is sex crimes, including those involving children.
There are numerous requirements and restrictions under the Texas sex offender registration program, and social media content can expose even seemingly minor slipups. Your online interactions with an alleged victim may show a volatile relationship, lending credibility to charges for rape.
In addition, social media content may be involved in:
- DWI cases, where your license was revoked or you are ordered to refrain from drinking
- Drug crimes, including possession, trafficking, and manufacturing
- Gun offenses, especially considering that possession by a convicted felon is itself a felony
- Assaults on law enforcement, in light of trends where bystanders capture arrests and encounters with police on video
- Theft crimes, in which pictures of stolen items might appear in the background of a photo or video
Social Media in Pre-Arrest and Investigations
The implications of social media posts after you have been convicted are serious, but it is worthwhile to understand how this content could affect your rights during pre-arrest stages. Officials are gathering evidence to support an arrest, and your social media posts, images, videos, and check-ins are fair game.
Investigators can glean a massive amount of information to establish probable cause that you committed a crime, giving them grounds to charge you. Ultimately, these details may also be presented in court when the prosecutor is attempting to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
This description may run contrary to your understanding of constitutional protections, specifically your rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution; the Texas Constitution also includes parallel provisions. A Galveston criminal defense attorney can clarify the application of civil rights laws to your social media content, but note the following:
- The Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable search and seizure, but only under circumstances in which you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The global scale of social media networks essentially makes content public, thereby preventing any assumption that your content is private.
- Your right against self-incrimination does apply to social media, but there are limitations on Fifth Amendment protections. You can remain silent when questioned by police, but your social media posts speak for themselves. Plus, the posts are akin to statements that you make before an arrest. They can lead to charges AND be used as evidence to prove guilt.
Also, keep in mind that the reading of your Miranda rights plays less of a role than you might expect in the context of social media. Yes, you do have the right to remain silent, but police do not have to read you these warnings if they are not interrogating you. The content you post on social media is a voluntary statement, so it is admissible in court.
Consult with a Galveston Criminal Defense Lawyer for Free
Avoiding social media is a smart strategy after you were convicted of a crime and want to stay on track, but mistakes happen. If a lapse in judgment led to criminal charges in Texas, please contact Mark Diaz, Criminal Defense Attorney, to discuss your case. Regardless of whether this is your first encounter with the criminal justice system, retaining experienced legal counsel is critical.
There are always strategies for fighting the charges, especially when you remember that the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Together with defenses, you can take advantage of tactics to obtain a favorable outcome.
For more information on our legal services for clients throughout Galveston County and Greater Houston, please call (409) 515-6170. We can schedule a free appointment with one of our criminal defense lawyers in Galveston. Once we assess your circumstances, we can discuss strategy.