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The California Supreme Court is the first state high court to consider and decide on the issue of whether or not social media companies should turn over users’ public communications to criminal defendants in response to subpoenas, The Los Angeles Times reports. The Supreme Court was unanimous in their decision, siding with the criminal defense bar overturning a previous appeals court decision that said that criminal defense lawyers could not impel companies like Facebook and Twitter to comply with subpoenas prior to trial.

The decision last Thursday is a huge win for those facing charges that could be vindicated via online communications. What’s interesting is that while social media companies would cite federal privacy laws [Stored Communications Act] as cause for not wanting to cooperate with defense attorneys, police and prosecutors have had little trouble acquiring the same kind of information in the past.

“Whenever criminal defendants subpoena records that we think we need to prove our clients are innocent, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram ignore us completely,” said Janelle Caywood, a criminal defense lawyer who has attempted to subpoena user information. She adds, “This is the first step in the right direction to full and fair access.”


Social Media Companies Must Comply With Subpoenas

The landmark California Supreme Court decision came about from a drive-by shooting case in San Francisco, according to the article. One of the defendants, 14-years of age, said that he’d been “tagged” in an Instagram video featuring guns by one of the victims. Defense lawyers served subpoenas on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for the accounts of a witness and the victim. Adducing the Stored Communications Act, the social media companies refused to comply with the subpoenas. The 14-year old admitted to shooting the victim six times, adding that and the victim “would have done the same thing to us.”

Companies have to comply with subpoenas from defense attorneys for users’ information, public at the time of the request, says California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

“A provider must disclose any such communication pursuant to a subpoena that is authorized under state law,” writes Cantil-Sakauye in the decision.


Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. With over 30 years of experience, attorney Brower can give you the best chance of finding a favorable outcome.

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