Virginia DUI arrests: Understanding the role of social media posts

The pictures, status updates and videos that people post to their social media accounts may be used to arrest, or build a case against them, for DUI.

People in Tidewater, and throughout Virginia frequently use social media, including Facebook, Periscope and Twitter. Many view these platforms as a way to share their lives and experiences, and to keep in touch, with friends, family and other acquaintances. What people fail to realize, however, is that the authorities may also use their social media posts to bring charges against them, or as evidence to prove their guilt. As the popularity of social media platforms grows, so too does their use by law enforcement in drunk driving, and other criminal cases.

The case of a 23-year-old Florida woman recently made national news. According to a USA Today report, the woman was charged with DUI after allegedly live streaming herself driving under the influence using the Periscope app. Other concerned users purportedly notified the authorities, which prompted an officer with the Lakeland Police Department to download the app. Law enforcement agents then used her live stream to help locate the woman, and pulled her over. She was reportedly arrested after failing a field sobriety test and refusing a breath test.

Grounds for arrest

As happened in the case out of Florida, social media posts may spark law enforcement investigations. Alone, such posts may not provide the evidence necessary to make a drunk driving arrest. However, they may draw attention to a motorist who has consumed alcohol, or provide probable cause for law enforcement to make a stop and look for further signs of intoxication.

Establishing a timeline

Instances of people declaring that they are driving drunk and sharing live video of themselves are relatively uncommon. People do, however, frequently post pictures and status updates before, during and after going out. After a DUI arrest, authorities may use such posts to establish a timeline of their activities. In other cases, social media posts may be used as evidence that people were drinking heavily before their arrest, or that they knew they were intoxicated before getting behind the wheel.

Private settings do not promise privacy

Often, people think their social media posts are safe from law enforcement scrutiny because they have their privacy settings set to private. This does not guarantee that they will not be seen or used against them, however. If their connections have public settings, the authorities may access posts and pictures that they are tagged in through their accounts. In other cases, they may go so far as to create fake accounts and send friend requests in order to gain access to people's posts.

Furthermore, the American Bar Association points out that courts frequently determine that there is no expectation of privacy for social media posts. This is generally because they are already sharing them with others. As such, social media posts may not be covered under privacy privileges. Therefore, they may be accessible by law enforcement, and admissible in court. Depending on the circumstances, the authorities may even be able to obtain posts that have been deleted.

Seeking legal guidance

Being charged with DUI is a serious offense in Virginia, and elsewhere. People's actions before and after such arrests, including the thoughts and pictures they share via social media, may be used to build a case against them. In order to protect their rights and interests, those facing drunk driving charges may benefit from working with an attorney. A legal representative may help them to establish a strong defense, as well as offer advice regarding how to handle their social media accounts during their cases.