October 06, 2009
Latest Example of Social Networking Site Evidence Contradicting In-Court Testimony--People v. Franco
I have Westlaw alerts set up to notify me when court opinions discuss the major social networking sites. As a result, I am now seeing a steady stream of cases where Facebook or MySpace postings are being used to contradict a litigant's or witness' testimony in a court case. I think the following excerpt from People v. Franco, 2009 WL 3165840 (Cal. App. Ct. Oct. 5, 2009), where a jury convicted the defendant Franco of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, exemplifies what I'm seeing:
At about 10:30 a.m. on June 6, 2006, Franco and Henry Chavez were seen racing each other in their Mustang vehicles on the Ventura Freeway, each reaching speeds of approximately 100 miles per hour. Franco applied her brakes while Chavez was directly behind her, causing him to lose control of his vehicle. The vehicle travelled to the other side of the freeway, flipped, and landed in a strawberry field. Chavez was killed. Franco did not stop.
Franco testified that she was driving approximately 75 miles an hour on the freeway when Chavez began tailgating her. When she changed lanes, he followed her. Noticing that her speed had increased, she tapped on her brakes to slow down. Chavez veered to avoid hitting her, then lost control of his vehicle. She saw a plume of dust but kept driving as her boyfriend advised when she called him on her cell phone. The day before the accident, however, Franco had written on her MySpace page, “If you find me on the freeway and you can keep up I have a really bad habit of racing random people.”
I know most of us already know this lesson, but this case reminds us that our statements on social networking sites can and will be used against us. It also reminds us how hard it's becoming to maintain multiple persona--in this case, the in-court persona of being a safe and courteous driver while simultaneously maintaining an alternative persona as a "secret" street racer.
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