Can Your Google Searches Be Used Against You in Criminal Court?
One of the most watched criminal trials of the decade occurred in the now-ancient time of 2011, when Casey Anthony stood trial for the murder of her child Caylee Anthony. A key piece of evidence presented by the prosecution against her was the testimony of a forensic specialist who reported that Ms. Anthony’s laptop contained data showing she had done an internet search of the word “chloroform” 84 times, as chloroform was used in the death of Ms. Anthony’s daughter. After the evidence was heard, it was later determined that the software used did not work properly, and only one search for the word was done. Ms. Anthony was acquitted of murder charges nonetheless, but the episode raises important questions about how google searches can be used against defendants in criminal trials and why it is important to retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
When Internet Searches Can Be Admitted Against Defendants
Under state and federal rules of evidence, before prosecutors can admit evidence to a jury against a defendant, they must show that evidence is:
- Obtained legally by police and prosecutors,
- Accurate in what it is supposed to represent (e.g. that the evidence of a search being done 84 times means that the search was actually done 84 times),
- Relevant to the criminal charges being brought, and
- Not disallowed by another rules of evidence
With regard to how the evidence was obtained, prosecutors cannot admit search histories that were obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which says police cannot seize evidence without a warrant or under some recognized exception to the warrant requirement. Thus, if police illegally spied on you, seized your laptop or phone without a warrant or applicable exception, or otherwise found your search history in a way that violates state or federal laws, the search history cannot be used against you.
As for relevancy, your search history may be considered relevant if it tends to disprove or prove an element of the criminal charges being brought against you (or a defense being raised), but a judge should not admit the search if it is overly prejudicial. Thus, if you are on trial for insider trading and a prosecutor attempts to admit evidence of a peculiar sexual predilection via your search history, your defense lawyer may be able to successfully argue it is not relevant to your charges and that it is also overly prejudicial.
Working With Experienced Criminal Defense Counsel in Fighting Search Record Evidence
What evidence is admitted against you and how it is used by prosecutors in speaking to a jury can mean the difference between a guilty verdict and a case that is dropped by prosecutors who know they do not have the confidence to win based on a lack of evidence.
Thus, when prosecutors attempt to bring charges against you based at least in part on your internet search history, it is important to work with experienced criminal defense counsel who can pursue all potentially useful defenses on your part, including:
- Arguing that the evidence was improperly obtained by police in violation of your constitutional rights
- Calling into question the accuracy of the evidence, including how it was measured, recorded, and presented
- Calling into question the relevancy of the evidence to the crimes being charged
- Presenting alternative perspectives on who may have actually conducted the search, why, when, and for what reason
- Locating and presenting other evidence that provides positive context or otherwise mitigates the search history evidence presented against you
Do not hesitate to reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney in your jurisdiction who can take bold, decisive actions on the above matters in your defense.
Fighting For Your Best Possible Outcome in Your CA Criminal Case
If you have been placed under arrest or are under investigation for a crime in California, it is important to work with criminal defense attorneys who will fight for your rights. At the Law Offices of Omar Gastelum and Associates, PLC, our experienced criminal defense attorneys will work with you from the very start to reach a positive outcome: a dropped investigation, a dismissal of charges, a not guilty verdict, a reduced sentence, or an alternative treatment program. Contact the Law Offices of Omar Gastelum and Associates, PLC today to get your best defense now.