Can Your Internet Search History Be Used Against You in Court?

More and more, when we want answers to a burning question or simply want to gather information or entertain ourselves, we turn to Google or some other search engine to get us where we want to go on the internet. This is especially likely to be true when we have an issue we do not want to necessarily share with others. While it is not the case that everyone who goes surfing the internet is hiding some deep, dark secret, it is probably safe to say that very few of us would not mind having our internet search history broadcast to the world and/or used against us in court, whether in a civil or a criminal trial. The short answer is that it is possible that your internet search history can be used against you in court, so long as it is relevant to your case, was properly obtained by the other side, and otherwise conforms with the applicable state or federal rules of evidence.

When Your Search History Might Be Relevant

There are very few types of internet searches that are illegal in-and-of themselves (e.g. if a person is searching to attempt to possess child pornography or to hack into a private, government server) but the searches might be evidence of a crime or civil liability. Ways in which your internet search history might be relevant in a criminal or civil trial include:

  • Intent: If you search for “how to buy heroin” or “how to get away with homicide,” then prosecutors can argue that those searches were evidence of intent to possess illegal narcotics or to commit murder. While not proof, like many pieces of evidences, they could be admissible as relevant circumstantial evidence of a crime.
  • Motive: Maybe you searched for “what to do if your husband is cheating on you” or “how to scare off a stalker.” If you later are arrested for a violent crime against your husband or person who was stalking you, these searches could establish motive.
  • Attempts to Hide Wrongdoing: Searching for “how to dispose of a body” or even “how to get bloodstains out of carpet” might be considered evidence that you committed a crime and were trying to hide it.
  • Communications with “Conspirators”: If you search for the Facebook or LinkedIn profile of a person who committed a crime or just simply more information about that person and you are under investigation for helping that person commit a crime, the search could be evidence pointing to a conspiracy or being an accomplice.

These are just a few of the many ways that your internet search history might come into play in a trial, but we turn next to taking steps against the admission of your history.

Fighting Against Admission of Your Search History

Before a judge will allow any type of evidence to come into your trial, the judge will want to see that

  1.  it is relevant to the issue being litigated
  2. that the evidence was properly obtained, and
  3. that it otherwise complies with applicable evidentiary rules.

For example, under the Federal Rules of Evidence, the court “may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” And in a criminal trial, the prosecutors would have to prove that investigators properly obtained your search with respect to the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

An experienced attorney will explore all potential arguments in your favor to prevent prejudicial and/or illegally obtained evidence of your internet search history out of your trial.

Contact a Los Angeles Attorney Today

The attorneys at The Law Offices of Omar Gastelum and Associates, PLC, represent clients across Southern California in civil and criminal trials. We provide legal assistance in English, Spanish, Farsi, Korean, and Arabic. Contact our offices today to schedule a consultation with a Los Angeles attorney to see what we can do for you.