eLessons Learned - Full Article

Dear Criminals, We Can Use the Internet, Too.
Sincerely, Law Enforcement

All content that you put on the internet, whether you think it is private or not, is out in the open and can be accessed by anyone. Think about some of things you may have on your MySpace or Facebook pages, or may have posted on your blog or might have tweeted. Do you want your boss or the police or the courts to see them? If not, you’d be wise to avoid posting anything that could expose you to the wrath of authorities.

In Clark v. State, police and prosecutors used statements on Ian Clark’s MySpace page to help convict him of first-degree murder. Granted, your dirty little secrets probably won’t end up as badly as Ian Clark’s, but why take any chances?

In Clark, police arrested Clark after his fiancée came home from work and found her two-year-old Samantha blue and unresponsive, and Clark lying on the couch, drunk with a blood covered blanket over him. After being asked about the blood, Clark stood up and dropped Samantha’s body on the ground and told his fiancée that Samantha was breathing. The fiancée tried unsuccessfully to wake Samantha, and then tried to call 911. Clark told her to put the phone down, then lit a cigarette and turned on the TV.

As the fiancée tried repeatedly to call 911, Clark stopped her by taking the phone away from her and by trying to take her away from the phone. Undaunted, the fiancée finally managed to call 911 and asked the operator for help; but then Clark punched his fiancé in the back of the head.

The fiancée finally completed her call to 911, even with Clark still trying to stop her, put a diaper on Samantha and went outside to meet a police officer. The reporting officer arrested Clark at the scene and Clark told the detective “F* it. It’s only a C felony. I can beat this.” The extant of Samantha’s injuries was appalling and included multiple broken bones, an atlanto-occipital dislocation, and nearly twenty additional separate injuries. Neither one fall, multiple falls, nor multiple household accidents could have possibly caused Samantha’s injuries, according to the ER doctor.

The State charged Clark with murder. Clark originally presented both a voluntary intoxication and insanity defenses; but withdrew them and rested his case on the basis

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that his actions were reckless and not intentional. In order to rebut this assertion, the State used Clark’s description of himself that he posted on his MySpace page. This description included such choice statements as: “Society labels me as an outlaw and criminal” and “if I can do it a get away … why the f* can’t you.”

Clark argued that these statements should have been excluded under Indiana Evidence Rule 404(b), which provides: “Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is no admissible to prove the character of a person . . . . ” The court held that these statements were properly admitted because they were only statements about Clark and were made in reference to him by him, not prior criminal acts; and stated: “It was Clark’s words and not his deeds that were at issue.”

Clark brought his character into issue when he argued that he had only acted recklessly and presented evidence about his state of mind at the time of the incident. This defense strategy enabled the prosecution to use Clark’s MySpace statements to rebut those arguments.

If you have information posted on the internet, through MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, or anything else, check what you have written and make sure that it is actually something that you wouldn’t mind the police or your boss reading. Specifically, don’t write anything about being an outlaw and getting away with crimes — unless you think you would enjoy prison.

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