As long as photos have become commonplace, they’ve been used as evidence in criminal trials. But historically, proving the date and time or location of a photo can often be a challenge unless the photo itself contains proof of these details such as a newspaper, clock, famous landmark or major event. That’s all changed now that most photos are taken on cell phones and are automatically tagged with the date and time an image was taken and often geotagged as well. So could this help or hurt your case? It could go either way according to Vista criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss.
A Beneficial Example
Christopher Precopia was accused of breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s home, where he allegedly attacked her and used a box cutter to carve an “X” into her chest. When police told Precopia the date of the attack though, he told them that he was at a hotel 65 miles away with his mother and others. Aside from the testimonials of those with him, he also had photos taken on his phone and posted to social media from the location that were both timestamped and tagged with geolocation data. As a result, he was eventually released from custody.
When Data Can Count Against You
Of course, if location data can be used to help prove someone is innocent, then it only makes sense that it can be used to prove their guilt as well. It’s fairly easy to imagine someone’s timestamped selfie taken across the street from a crime scene could easily be used as evidence if it proved they were near the scene of the crime when it happened.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in Riley v California that the police generally need a warrant absent consent to conduct any search of an unlocked or locked cell phone. Only if there is an emergency or exigency may the police forego obtaining a warrant. But even if police need a warrant to look at your phone and see when and where your photos were taken, you can accidentally waive your rights by voluntarily giving them your phone if it is unlocked or willingly unlocking it for them. This is why you should always ask for a Vista defense attorney as soon as police try to talk to you about a crime and never willingly let them look at your phone without a warrant.
It’s worth knowing that if an unlocked phone is seized during a search with a valid warrant, they do not need an additional warrant to search it, whereas they do if you have a password, pin or biometric lock set up, which is why you should always lock your phone. Additionally, anything you post on social media may be viewed by the police, even if you have a private profile.
Problems With Geotags and Timestamps
Unfortunately, even a timestamped and geotagged photo showing you were halfway across the country is enough to automatically prove your innocence. That’s because like so many other things, these details can be faked by someone with enough tech-savvy. A reputable Vista defense lawyer will never willingly submit evidence that he knows has been tampered with and will urge his clients not to falsify evidence as it can result in additional criminal charges if they are
Prosecutors will always look at all available evidence before deciding to charge someone with a crime, so if there is enough evidence against you to outweigh a geotagged and timestamped picture , then they will likely still move forward with the charges.
If you have been accused of a crime and believe images on your phone or social media accounts could be used to help or hurt your case, be sure to share this information with your Vista criminal attorney. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation with Peter M. Liss.