Judge Uses MySpace When Convicting Suspects

By: Stacy McCloud
By: Stacy McCloud

Knoxville (WVLT) - Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, but what about the things you write?

Letters, even e-mails, have long been used in courtrooms.

But as Volunteer TV’s Stacy McCloud shows us, in this age of the internet, lawyers and judges are using what you write on your public blogs, webpages, and social networks, as evidence against you.

The slogan for MySpace.com reads, "MySpace - A Place For Friends", but what about a place for the court of law?

"When you post it on the internet it's there for everybody to see,” Judge Richard Baumgartner has been on the bench for 15 years.

He's seen and used a lot of tactics, but social networking sites are new, but definitely fair game.

"The rules of evidence provide that a defendants statement can be used,” says Judge Baumgartner.

Comments could get you in legal trouble for anything from defamation in a civil suite, to discrediting character during trial, even leverage for a judge during sentencing.

Judge Baumgartner has used MySpace only once, in the child abuse case of Philip Corey Reep.

Reep and his girlfriend were charged with aggravated child abuse.

During trial, Reep was found guilty of a lesser charge.

But comments on his MySpace page were used by prosecutors as an attempt to impeach Reep’s credibility as a witness.

Other comments were used by Judge Baumgartner during sentencing, who says what Reep wrote after the verdict is what caught his attention.

"He got on MySpace and said, ‘not guilty’, found not guilty. Well of course he was found guilty, we was just guilty of a lesser offense,” says Judge Baumgartner.

That, among several other comments left on Reep’s page, left Judge Baumgartner to believe Reep took the crime and verdict as a joke. "Indicated to me he didn't realize the seriousness of his actions.”

Using personal expressions on public sites as evidence may be a new practice in law, but judges say it's not going anywhere, except back to haunt the guilty.

"I think we'll see more of this,” Judge Baumgartner says

With these sites you can make your pages private to view unless you are an invited friend.

However judges remind you, that "where there is a will there is a way", if the comments are seen and printed it could be used as evidence.

Phillip Corey Reep was sentenced to four years in jail. He is appealing his conviction.


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