A Picture is Worth a Thousand Days in Prison

I was recently contacted by a person (let’s refer to him as Kodak) who was arrested for Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon in Fort Myers, Florida. This charge is a second degree felony in Florida which means it carries a maximum penalty of fifteen years in prison. Also, if the state can prove actual possession (meaning the firearm was on him or in his hand) there is a three year minimum mandatory sentence. Another person’s cellphone was searched by police and they found a picture of Kodak holding a handgun while smiling and holding a large amount of cash. By downloading the picture directly from the phone, the police could prove Kodak’s incriminating picture was taken after he became a convicted felon. This picture may now cost him more than one thousand days in prison.

The United States Supreme Court just recently ruled that cellphones cannot be searched by police without a search warrant. This ruling does not prevent police from getting evidence from cellphones. It simply makes them work harder to get the evidence.

I also saw a story on tv about a lady who wore a custom dress and posted a picture of herself in the dress on her Facebook page. The problem she has is the dress was stolen from a store and she is now suspected of stealing it. In some states, including Florida, possession of recently stolen property allows the state to assume you are the person who stole it. Obviously she didn’t post that the dress was stolen; however, an employee from the store saw the post and called police. She was arrested and is now going through the court system. In her case, there are no legal protections that prevent prosecutors from using pictures that were posted one public forum such as Facebook because she no longer has a right to privacy in something she made public.

In this time of rampant selfies and memorializing everything with cellphone cameras, some people forget that these pictures can easily be used against them. What started out as an innocent photo to show friends could later be an exhibit for prosecutorial purposes. Be careful what you photograph, who photographs you, and what photographs you post for the world to see.

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