Court sidesteps issue of social media account authentication

Facebook phone and computer

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – The Connecticut Supreme Court on Monday sidestepped the issue of how social media accounts should be authenticated in criminal cases, in a ruling upholding a murder conviction.

The court issued a 6-0 decision in the appeal of Derrick Bouknight, who argued prosecutors didn’t adequately prove a Facebook account they used as evidence was his. His appeal noted how easy it is to create fake accounts, hack into accounts and doctor photographs.

While courts in other states have issued varying opinions on how to authenticate social media accounts, Connecticut justices instead said evidence against Bouknight was overwhelming and he didn’t prove the admission of the Facebook evidence had a substantial effect on the jury’s verdict.

Bouknight, 27, is serving a 70-year prison sentence for fatally shooting a man in New Haven in October 2010. A judge allowed into evidence photos from a Facebook account that police said was Bouknight’s. The photos showed Bouknight wearing a baseball cap and a glove that were similar to a cap and glove witnesses said the killer was wearing when he shot William Baines in a dispute over a $100 debt.

Bouknight’s lawyer, Richard Condon Jr., said the trial court judge never found that Bouknight created or maintained the Facebook account or posted the photographs. He said the Facebook photos made Bouknight look like a “thug” and portrayed him in a negative light to jurors.

The court did say, however, that there was “ample” evidence including witness testimony that indicated the Facebook account was Bouknight’s.

Condon said Monday that he could not immediately comment because he had yet to review the decision.

Bouknight has never said whether the Facebook page was his.

Prosecutor Timothy Costello said it was the second case in which the Supreme Court avoided deciding on standards for admitting social media evidence.

“Eventually a case will get up there where they will have to confront it,” he said.

The issue has not made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

More than 40 states have based their evidence authentication rules on the federal rules of evidence, which allow for the authentication of evidence through the testimony of witnesses and circumstantial evidence.

Some states, including Maryland, have taken a tougher approach. The Maryland Court of Appeals said in a 2011 case that social media evidence can be verified in several ways, including having profile creators testify the accounts are theirs, searching computers used to create profiles and having social media companies verify profile creators.

Texas and other states have adopted lower standards, saying circumstantial evidence including photos and comments is adequate.

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