“We Want to See!”

A local case is making the news here, and I suspect, will hit the bigger news feeds soon. A fight outside a bar in November, 2008, is at the center of the case. An off-duty, and now fired, police officer is being prosecuted for a shooting that happened during that fight. And the police officer’s lawyer wants to see what the other police officers who were investigating the case said to each other on facebook during the inquiry. He believes it is evidence that shows police officers investigating the case were not only biased, but may have been influenced by status postings or comments to status postings that flew back and forth on Facebook during the investigation.

Facebook, of course, is fighting the request to turn over the evidence, citing the Federal Stored Communications Act. This is one way to go about it, and it will be interesting to see if this will be challenged successfully by the police officer’s lawyer. Interestingly enough, the prosecutor in the case can ask for, and receive, those records from Facebook, but the defense attorney cannot. And the prosecution in the case has rebuffed the defense attorney’s attempts to get them to request the records.

The stakes are high for the police officer, who faces up to 30 years in prison for aggravated battery with a firearm. The stakes are also high for Facebook users, as this challenge could open many of them (me included) up to having records snatched by non-law enforcement in the event of a criminal matter. I’ll be watching this one closely. The police officer’s defense attorney in the case, Albert Watkins, is one of those lawyers you see on the news all the time. We have about four or five of those running around here, always talking about the innocence of their client and how the prosecution is doing them wrong in some way or another, so some of this is posturing, I’m sure. But the case’s outcome could make a much bigger impact on all Facebook users.

The judge has taken all the arguments into consideration and has said he will be researching the matter before making a decision. I hope he has good legal research assistants to help him out.