Here at Page Vault, we talk a lot about the importance of web content authentication. Recently, we came across the IL v. Lorenzo Kent, 2017 IL App (2d) 140917, No. 2-14-0917 (Lorenzo Kent) opinion which reversed a first-degree murder conviction, in part because of a piece of web evidence that was not properly authenticated.

Background

Lorenzo Kent was convicted of first-degree murder for shooting his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend in the driveway of where the ex-boyfriend was currently residing. The day after the murder, the investigator, Detective Beets, found a Facebook profile under the name “Lorenzo Luckii Santos.” and took a screenshot of a post, which showed a photograph of someone allegedly resembling the defendant that read, “its my way or the highway…..leave em dead n his driveway.”

In June 2017, the Second District Appellate Court of Illinois upheld the defendant’s appeal that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting a crucial Facebook post without proper authentication:

¶ 1 In the direct appeal of his first-degree murder conviction, defendant, Lorenzo Kent, Jr.,argues that … (2) the trial court erred in admitting a Facebook post without sufficient authentication … We reverse and remand.

The Web Evidence Takeaway

¶ 57 Detective Beets testified that the profile name “Lorenzo Luckii Santos” was “associated” with this post, and he printed a screenshot of the post. The detective offered no testimony about when the post was created, but he testified that it was deleted later that day.

¶ 58 Following Detective Beets’s testimony, the defense renewed its objection to the Facebook evidence, arguing that there had been insufficient authentication. Despite its pretrial assurances, the State had failed to link the name “Santos” to defendant or to present Facebook records to establish that the post originated from [the defendant’s girlfriend’s] IP address.

¶ 116  Other than the post itself, the State cites no evidence that defendant even had a Facebook profile, much less that the post was his.

Social media profiles, even with the same name, could be faked––so when there is a social media profile with a different name than the party in question, it is important to establish the connection between the social media user and the person.

In the Lorenzo Kent opinion, the judge references an opinion from 2012, Tienda v. State of Texas, No. PD–0312–11 (Feb. 8, 2012) (Tienda). Tienda is commonly cited as precedent when social media is introduced as evidence in a criminal case because it establishes that the data, or circumstantial evidence, found in a profile may be enough to connect the profile to an individual. In Tienda, the Court concluded that there were enough distinctive characteristics identified in the social media profile to allow the question of authenticity of the user to be submitted to the jury under the Texas equivalents of Federal Rules of Evidence 104 and 901.

In Lorenzo Kent, The Appeals Court notes that the only connection with the defendant is the name on the account and a small, indistinct photo in the post. Had the State captured the entire profile of “Lorenzo Luckii Santos,” it would have been in a stronger position to argue for the admissibility of the evidence.

Documenting the entirety of a named party’s social media profile is a best practice. By capturing an entire social media profile, you can provide circumstantial evidence, or the context, of the person’s social presence which can help answer the question “did the person really post it?” Additionally, you are also protected in the event that the social media posts are later deleted or made private.

When collecting web evidence, it’s imperative to give the full context of the original webpage that the data lives on. By providing that context, the post is more likely to pass the “reasonable juror” standard, concluding that the presented information does depict an accurate representation of a social media platform.