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A Downside of Today’s Technology: With The Alleged Victim Not Pressing Charges, the Case of Former NFL Cheerleader Sarah Jones Brings Electronic Evidence into the Spotlight

When former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader and Kentucky high school teacher Sarah Jones pled not guilty last week to charges of first degree sexual abuse of a minor, there was one important difference in the courtroom.  Instead of pressing charges against Jones, the 16 year old boy and his family appeared in court at her arraignment  – coming out in support of Jones and stating that they do not want to see her prosecuted.

Perhaps surprisingly, the prosecutor’s office has decided to move forward with this case – despite their most important witness siding with the defense.  In fact, the prosecutor has all but gone on the record and said that they don’t need the alleged victim because the forensic evidence – in this case solely electronic evidence in the form of emails, texts and social media – is good enough to get the conviction they want.

The question remains:  can the prosecution still get the conviction in this case, even without any witnesses?  The answer lies in the strength of this electronic evidence – and the whole world will be watching to see how this new type of forensic evidence will play out in the courtroom.

This case – and the emergence and use of social media and texts/emails as forensic evidence – should be a warning to everyone out there that we live in a world where everything we say and do via social media is being preserved in one way or another.  Every email, text, tweet and Facebook posting may be kept by those respective companies at least in some capacity -- whether we delete them or not.  It can become evidence – evidence that can be devastating for a defendant during a trial because it can’t be explained away … and, for the most part, doesn’t have the ability to lie.

As developments in this case continue, the country will likely be watching to not only see how this particular case progresses … but what the implications are for how future cases are tried – and convictions are secured.  We all need to be cognizant of the fact that this type of electronic evidence is something that prosecutors and police departments are relying on more and more in the criminal justice field.  They don’t need the victims to cooperate if the evidence they need is spelled out right in front of them in black and white via social media.  Meaning that everything you do, say -- and write – can become evidence … and just may be the evidence that is needed to secure a conviction.  And, as illustrated by the fact that Sarah’s mother Cheryl Jones, principal at a local Kentucky Middle School,  has also been indicted on the charge of tampering with physical evidence, it’s not only what you do and say on social media that is being watched – but what you do in terms of deleting or tampering in any way with today’s new electronic evidence.

We live in a totally new world today – and this case, like others that will undoubtedly follow – should serve as a big wake up call to all of us who have embraced today’s technology.  Although texting, email and social media are, of course, generally seen as a benefit to all of us, this electronic communication can also serve as the downfall for many people – and, in the area of criminal justice, can have devastating repercussions.  In a world where an email or text can live forever, be careful of what you say, write and post – and avoid the potential danger of your own words somehow being used as evidence against you in some way.

Like others throughout the country, we’ll be watching to see the impact that electronic evidence will have on the final outcome of this case, so check back here for further commentary as developments continue.  As always, for questions regarding the law or for legal assistance and counsel in a variety of matters, feel free to call us 24/7 at 516-294-0300.

One Comment

  1. BGM
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    I the evidence supports that a crime was committed I think that the alleged victim siding with the defense has little impact on the ruling. It’s just like a RICO case where physical evidence indicate a crime where no witness is brought forth.

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