Most individuals are aware of the social media app Snapchat. For those unfamiliar, Snapchat is an app that allows its users to send and post pictures or videos for a specified amount of time. After that specified time expires, the video or picture is “deleted.” Unfortunately, once something is uploaded to the internet, it is never truly “deleted.” As such, individuals all over are seeing the consequences of posting incriminating pictures and videos to social media apps. But, can any picture or video you have ever posted be used against you? Are there limits to when your social media posts can be used as evidence in a criminal conviction? The Indiana Court of Appeals recently grappled with these questions in its recent decision Melton v. State1. Some of the answers to these questions are answered in this blog post.
In Melton, the Court of Appeals upheld the Trial Court’s decision to allow a video found on the Defendant’s Snapchat into evidence. The relevant facts of the case are as follows: The Defendant, Melton, was in the passenger seat of a vehicle that was pulled over after failing to use its turn signal. The officer, upon approaching the vehicle, could smell marijuana coming from the vehicle, and asked for identification from all individuals inside. The officer noticed Melton kept reaching under the seat, and the officer asked him to stop. Melton did not, and the officer called for backup. Once backup arrived, the officers searched the vehicle and found a gun under Melton’s seat, which Melton denied belonged to him. While in custody, one of the officers heard Melton mention Snapchat. The officer then found Melton’s Snapchat username and proceeded to his account. The officer found a video posted by Melton which showed him wearing the same clothes and had a gun which looked very similar to the gun found under the seat.
At trial, Melton argued that the video should not be admitted because it is a violation of the rules of evidence. Specifically, Melton argued that the video constituted improper character evidence because the video was being used to show that Melton committed a crime in the past (i.e., illegal possession of handgun) and therefore, Melton must be guilty of the current crime (i.e., the handgun under the seat). The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, finding the video was not offered to prove Melton’s character. Instead, the video was being used to show that Melton had possession of the handgun found in the car. The Court noted that the gun in the video and the gun found in the car were “very similar.” As such, the video served as additional evidence that the gun, in fact, belonged to Melton. Thus, this was corroborative evidence not evidence used to prove Melton’s character.
This case highlights the importance of the ever-changing landscape with technology and the Indiana Rules of Evidence. Knowing the status of developments in the law is the key to avoiding criminal liability, as well as being an engaged citizenry in our participatory system of government. This blog on a key new case was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle all areas of criminal law, as well as appeals. This blog was written for educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.