How Your Statements Can Be Used Against You In Court
If you’ve lived all your life in a democracy based on the rule of law, chances are you walk around believing you can legally say anything you want. For the most part, this is true, especially in a country like the United States where citizens are protected by the First Amendment. But it’s important to understand that even in places with free speech laws, statements someone makes can still be used against them in court. This is true in both civil and criminal proceedings.
For example, let’s say you’re on one side of a heated custody battle and there’s a garbled recording of you on the phone with your ex-husband in which he is making violent threats. Your ex and his lawyer aren’t worried because the recording quality is poor and the threats are difficult to understand due to background noise. However, your lawyer uses certified legal transcription services to provide the court with a written version of the conversation. In it, the threats are impossible to deny.
Another example of a person’s statements being used against them in court is when someone is interviewed by law enforcement, typically in the absence of a criminal defense attorney. If they suspect a person is guilty, police will often go to extreme lengths to get them to make incriminating statements. Investigators can even lie to someone they are interviewing and what the person says is still considered evidence.
It used to be difficult if not impossible to find written statements authored by someone which can be used against them in court. That was until the digital age, where everyone is constantly emailing, texting, and posting to social media. A seemingly inconsequential email sent to someone can end up being used to help make the state’s case that an individual is prone to violence.
Tech companies are not quick to turn over users files and records, but a subpoena is a writ upheld by law. If Google or Facebook are ordered to hand over private information about a person, they will have no choice but to do so. The result is that these days, it’s not unusual to see something as seemingly innocuous as a status update be presented as evidence.
So what does this mean for people going forward? Simply put, be careful what you say, how it’s said, and where you say it. This is particularly important when it comes to anything which is digital since a virtual environment is likened to a permanent record.
Wait, doesn’t that slap free speech right in the face? Look, we aren’t saying you can’t make statements on Facebook which are disturbing or otherwise questionable. The police cannot come to arrest you just for saying something. But in the event the law believes you are responsible for a crime and starts poking around, they will be eager to find things you’ve said to lend credence to their theory of the case.
Those of us fortunate enough to be born and raised in democratic countries bound by the rule of law often take our rights for granted, including our right to free speech. It’s important to never forget that while you have the right to say what you want, that doesn’t mean what you say can’t be used against you.