by Lisa Swan on March 22, 2012
You remember that part of the Miranda warning that Sgt. Joe Friday used to recite on “Dragnet,” about how anything you say can be used against you in a court of law? Well, that goes for what you write on Twitter, too, as protestors from the Occupy Wall Street movement have learned.
Like Jeff Rae, who got arrested during the OWS protest on the Brooklyn Bridge in October. The 31-year-old originally planned on fighting The Man in court, but changed his mind after learning that investigators in the district attorney’s office had been able to successfully subpoena his Twitter account. “You’re fighting the king, “he told the Wall Street Journal. “It seemed like a lot of the power was in their hands.” Rae wrote “I will tweet until I’m cuffed ;)” on Twitter during the protest.
He’s not the only one. Prosecutors in these cases are looking at social media, especially Twitter, for evidence. Some of the protestors had used Twitter for not just planning activities, but to warn other if the police were on the way. In addition, tweets can potentially show protestors’ state of mind. This happened with the prosecution of Malcolm Harris, also nabbed on the Brooklyn Bridge. Assistant District Attorney Lee Langston said in a court filing that his Harris tweets “made clear…that he was well aware of the police instructions that day, and acted with the intent of obstructing traffic on the bridge.” Langston has subpoenaed to get the tweets, but Harris is objecting. There will be a hearing on the issue on Friday.
Martin Stolar, Harris’ attorney, said that this “is an attempt by the DA’s office to use a sledgehammer to squash a gnat.” He called it”a little overkill.”
Justin Wedes, an Occupy member, called it a “fishing expedition” that is “a chilling effect on our free speech rights and the waste of taxpayer money to peruse individual’s public and private communications.”
Although the article does not make it clear, the investigators may be searching for what people wrote privately, or at deleted public posts, because if the comments were made public and are still are, there would be no need to get a subpoena here.
The lesson to be learned here is indeed the same in that Miranda warning this: anything you say – whether online or in person – can and will be used against you in a court of law. So yes, your tweets could earn you a stay in the Graybar Hotel.
Lisa Swan is a Feature Writer for the Compliance Exchange and the Wall Street Job Report. She is also a columnist for The Faster Times and a blogger for Subway Squawkers. Her work has also appeared in the New York Daily News, Yahoo Sports, Huffington Post and the books Graphical Player 2011 and Graphical Player 2010.