University of Tennessee Football Players’ Criminal Trial
Social Media Accounts May Be Fair Game in University of Tennessee Football Players’ Criminal Trials
Appellate Judges will decide whether social media posts, messages, and texts of the accuser will be turned over to defense attorneys.
Former University of Tennessee football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams are currently facing charges of raping a female athlete in Johnson’s bedroom during a post-football game party. Johnson and Williams maintain that the sexual encounter was consensual. The female athlete maintains that, despite a previously consensual sexual encounter with Johnson, the one in question was not.
Neither Johnson nor Williams will be tried until one key issue is resolved: whether or not the social media posts, messages, and texts of their accuser will be released to defense counsel. This question was presented to a panel of three Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals judges in December. The prosecutors argue that the social media communications are private. Defense attorneys argue that putting the social media communications out in cyberspace limits the expectation of privacy and the information sought is relevant in the criminal trials of both accused individuals.
The police did not attempt to access the social media posts and some would argue that it was not their place to do so. Social media posts and text messages are part of a new wave of evidence that has come along as a result of our increased technology use and capabilities. Who is responsible for preserving this potential evidence lies in uncharted legal territory.
The prosecutors and the police do not have the information and so the state cannot be compelled to provide the defense with the information they seek. That is why the defense attorneys want to use subpoenas that are most often used in civil court to gather social media information. The defense wants the social media websites and the accuser and key witnesses to access certain accounts and provide the relevant data. Criminal court rules on accessing evidence are stricter than those of civil court. The defense attorneys are required to show that the information sought is relevant which they assert to have already done. Police interviews are said to have revealed that the accuser and other key witnesses texted and communicated via social media apps about the incident.
The ruling on this issue could have far reaching effects on the Tennessee criminal justice system and privacy concerning an individual’s social media account. Because the potential effects of this decision and the fact that the legal question at hand has yet to be determined in Tennessee, the Tennessee Supreme Court may want to review the decision of the appellate court.
The legal world is constantly growing and changing. New issues are being decided every day and those decisions can have big impacts on future cases. The knowledgeable Tennessee criminal defense attorneys at Kidwell, South, Beasley & Haley make keeping up with the changing legal times a priority. If you have been charged with a crime, contact us today online, or call 615-893-1331 to schedule a free consultation.