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Social Media & Evidence

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Social Media & Evidence

Interviewer: Have you ever seen situations where social media may come into play?

Paul Tafelski: Yup. The typical scenario where these kind of bond violations or social media come into play has to do with people who are involved to relationships and one of them gets a domestic violence case that’s pending against them. They’re in this love/hate relationship, and so then they start carrying on again in secret, and then all of a sudden it gets negative again. That person turns against them and prints off the conversations from Facebook or prints off the photos of them being together and turns them over to the prosecutor to the court, or tries to turn them in for violating those no-contact orders, or get them in trouble for some reason. Then things go bad.

Social media is definitely not something that is helpful to the defendant. I shouldn’t say that because we have had occasions where we’ve seen victims who have made false accusations of domestic violence sort of portraying themselves as happy and in a party mood right after they made these charges. We’ve been able to use that evidence in order to impeach the credibility of that person because they don’t seem to be too upset about the accusations.

Yeah, social media can come into play. Not too often, overall, but sometimes it does.

Interviewer: As technology’s getting better and people are utilizing social media a lot more, do you think things are going to be changing a little bit more with that? Do people maybe need to be a little bit more careful and weary about what they post?

Paul Tafelski: Yeah. I think over time people are going to learn to be a little bit more discreet. Right now, there’s a learning curve where people just don’t realize how easy it is for others to spy on them, and so they put stuff out there that they shouldn’t. Also I think there’s more technology where if people are getting into a heated argument, one person might start recording the whole argument without the other one even realizing it because it’s so easy now with phones. All of a sudden, they’re gathering their own forms of evidence and that can affect the case, too.

Interviewer: What are examples of other forms of evidence?

Paul Tafelski: Just typical things, like photos or videotapes where a person is yelling and swearing or threatening somebody, or just acting like a complete lunatic. Those are pretty powerful pieces of evidence for the case whenever it goes to trial. Especially in a domestic violence case where they see if a jury was able to hear evidence of someone acting in a very belligerent and angry, mean way, then that makes it more difficult for them to win a case.

At the same time, it can be used against the complaining witness to show that they were an instigator or that they were equally involved, or that they were not the least bit scared and that they were fighting back. There are a lot of ways that audio or video or even still photographs shortly after the incident can impact the outcome.

 The Typical Witnesses in a Domestic Violence Trial

Interviewer: If it goes to trial, what sorts of witnesses are to be called upon?

Paul Tafelski: Typical witness would be the person who claims to be the victim and the police officer that came to the scene and maybe interviewed things and looked at bruises or scratches or evidence of the scene. Then sometimes the defendant will testify and sometimes they won’t. The burden of proof is on the prosecutor, and so if you feel like they’ve done a good job proving their case then sometimes the defendant will testify and tell his side of the story. If you feel like the prosecutor has done a poor job or hasn’t been able to meet their burden of proof, then usually the defense won’t testify. You’ll make the argument to the jury that the prosecutors failed and therefore they have to find them not guilty.

Usually, not too many witnesses testify because usually there really are not too many witnesses. It’s usually things that happen in private. There are really usually two or three people that will testify at trial.

Recanted Allegations are a Common Occurrence in Domestic Violence Cases

Interviewer: Have you ever dealt with cases where the alleged victim later admits to exaggerating a claim and decides they want to drop the charges?

Paul Tafelski: Yeah. That happens quite a bit, because a lot of times when people make the phone call they’re very outraged and they’re very mad about more than just what happened. It’s like the whole deterioration of their relationship and so they make the statement that kind of exaggerates things. Then, later on, when they calm down and cool down, they start to realize that they really made things worse for somebody than they expected they would and then they try to recant.

That’s where it really does take the lawyer to be the go-between because the defendant is not allowed to be speaking to that person. The defense is not allowed to be trying to work out those issues. That’s where the lawyer has to do it, be the go-between for the complaining witness and the prosecutor.

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