Legal Advice

Fix PAT with Pot

Pennsylvania is experiencing a budget crisis. No shock there. The state has been experiencing budget shortfalls for what seems like forever.

This morning, WTAE TV 4, Pittsburgh, is reporting on proposed legislation in the state House that would significantly cut funding for public transportation. The cuts would have a catastrophic effect on Pittsburgh public transportation.

The Port Authority of Allegheny county could lose as much as $100 million between the loss of funding coupled with the loss of revenue the proposed cuts would cost PAT through discontinued routes and service cuts.

It would mean a significant loss of jobs as well, forcing layoffs for a substantial number of PAT employees.

The loss of evening and weekend service would leave thousands in Pittsburgh without the means to get to and from work, school, doctor appointments, grocery shopping, etc. It would force PAT to raise rates (that are already among the highest in the nation) to levels that would disproportionately impact the poor and disenfranchised, as well as senior citizens who depend on buses and the T to get around town, and would leave many people stranded in outlying communities, where getting a cab or Uber is not a financially viable option for them.

There are an estimated 1 million marijuana users in Pennsylvania who spent an estimated $2.3 billion on illegal weed last year.

Translation: Pennsylvania missed out on approximately $585 million in tax revenue. That’s just one year.

That’s money that could easily solve many of Pennsylvania’s budget woes. It’s money that could go to educate kids, treatment for addiction, infrastructure repairs and, yes, keep the buses and trains running on time.

And that figure does not include the savings to law enforcement and the justice system from not prosecuting and incarcerating citizens for marijuana. It would allow them to focus on truly dangerous drugs like heroin and meth.

The state of Pennsylvania already sells alcohol. Why not marijuana? The most harmless and least toxic intoxicant there is.



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Vinni BelfioreFix PAT with Pot
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To Bail or Not to Bail?

pittsburgh criminal defenseBail.

What is it? How does it work? Should you pay a bail bondsman, or wait it out?

Being in jail sucks. No doubt about it.

The only thing a person in jail wants is to get out of jail, and they will often pay an exorbitant amount of money to get released.

Bail, or a bond, is a way for the authorities to ensure a person released from jail shows up for court by allowing them to be released after posting bail.

The dollar amount is based on the seriousness of the charges, the criminal history of the person charged, and the potential flight risk they might pose.

A person with an out of state residence poses an extreme flight risk. A person with a local address and a job less so. Someone with a history of violent crime might pose a risk to the community, so their bail will be much higher than someone with no criminal record.

Bail Bondsman: What they do.

Bail can be in amounts as high as one million dollars, but generally fall between $50,000-$250, 000.

Most people don’t have that kind of money laying around, so they must contract with a bail bondsman, who will post the bail for a non-refundable fee, usually ten percent. In other words, they will charge $5000 for a bail of $50,000.

It is also common for them to require collateral, such as a house, to guarantee their investment. If the person they bailed out doesn’t show up for court, they forfeit the bail money, but get the house.

This is known as a cash bond. But there are other types of bail which do not require cash.

Non-Monetary or, Conditional Bail:

This type of bail requires no money, but is conditional, based on the charges.

For example, someone who has a drug problem might get released to a rehabilitation facility. Others might be remanded to electronic monitoring– an ankle bracelet that alerts authorities whenever the person is not at home.

Someone with mental health issues might be remanded to a hospital for treatment.

Often times, a “Home Plan” is required. Release is conditional based on their residence meeting legal requirements. For example, a residence that is subsidized by public assistance (Section 8 housing) does not qualify.

The owner or primary leaseholder, as well as any residents, cannot be a convicted felon. The authorities will investigate potential residences in order to make certain they meet established guidelines.

Another condition, in the case of home monitoring, is a land line phone. This is how they monitor the person released.

ROR: Released on their Own Recognizance.

This is a common form of bond where the only condition is showing up for court. Failure to appear will result in an arrest warrant being issued. ROR is common for non-violent crimes like simple possession and DUI.

How can an Attorney Help?

As mentioned earlier, being in jail sucks, and the desire to get out often overrides everything. Someone who is in jail will plead with relatives to post their bail, regardless of the amount. But it is important to remember that the fee a bondsman charges is non-refundable. That money is gone.

Even though a person in jail wants out, right now, retaining an attorney, and having a little patience, can often result in a release with reduced and even no bail.

In one instance, my client was being held on a $50,000 bond, meaning his family would have to come up with $5000 cash, plus collateral. That amount was actually higher than my fee to represent him. After reviewing the circumstances, I was convinced we could motion the court to reduce the bond, and my client agreed to hold out a couple of extra days. We were able to show the court there was no risk of flight, and my client was released on their own recognizance, saving them $5000.

Of course, each case is subject to the particulars of the crime, criminal history, etc., but an attorney can often make a huge difference when deciding whether to post bail or wait a few days.

So before posting bail, it is highly advisable to consult with an attorney. Yes, jail sucks, but so does spending $5000 that may not have needed to be spent at all.



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Patrick NightingaleTo Bail or Not to Bail?
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Police Encounters Are Not A Courtroom– Even When You’re A Pittsburgh Steeler

There is a show on Netflix, “House of Cards”.  It follows a congressman and his wife on their rise to power and the Presidency.

One of the characters, Remy Danton,  is African American and the Presidents Chief of Staff.  There is a scene where he gets pulled over by the DC police for speeding, and he doesn’t have his wallet, which is where his license, registration and insurance card are.  At this point, the police officer is OBLIGATED to investigate further and search the subject for weapons.

No identification, no proof the car is his– he could claim he was the Pope and it wouldn’t matter.  This is standard procedure and within the confines of the law.

Operating a motor vehicle without a license is illegal, and it’s perfectly reasonable for the officer to follow established procedure to investigate further.

As much as I hate to say it, this is one of those times when, if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t be worried or react with undue emotionalism.

It is ALWAYS desirable from a legal view to cooperate with police during a traffic stop, but in the scene, Danton overreacts and in the process, elevates the nature of the encounter, which in turn escalates the police response.

“I have a right to know why you pulled me over!” he shouts while disobeying the order to keep his hands on the car in plain sight.

This type of adversarial behavior constitutes a legitimate safety concern for the police.

In this instance, the responding officer is also African American, so when Danton makes a snide remark about impressing his fellow white officers, it just adds fuel to the fire.

Danton ends up in cuffs in the back of a patrol car, until a Lieutenant shows up and having ascertained Danton’s identity,  apologizes for the inconvenience and takes off the cuffs.

There is an implication in the way the scene is presented that since Danton is a well known political figure, the policeman’s response must be because he is African American, but this is simply not the case when applied to real life.  The fact is, Danton overplayed his hand. He could claim to be anyone, but the police don’t know that.

Under these circumstances, anyone without a license, registration, etc., regardless of race or status, would be subject to standard police procedure if pulled over.   The police had probable cause and followed the rules.

Which brings us to Pittsburgh Steelers Linebacker Coach, Joey Porter.

Porter was arrested Sunday night at a nightclub, and although we don’t know all the details, we do know that the police were called after Porter’s behavior towards the officer working security at the club became threatening.   It’s been reported that Porter may have put his hands on the officer– a major no no.  NEVER initiate any kind of physical contact with the police, especially when you’re a physically imposing presence like, say, a former NFL linebacker.

Don’t say things like, “I know my rights” or “Don’t you know who I am?”

If you are pulled over or otherwise have a police encounter, remain calm and speak in even, measured tones.  Keep your hands in plain sight and make no sudden movements.

If you have to reach into your jacket for your wallet, or the glove compartment for paperwork, ask the officer first.  “Officer, my wallet is in my jacket, is it okay for me to get it?”

Don’t tell them how to do their job.  No one likes that.  Cooperate with their instructions.  YOU know you don’t have a gun in your jacket, but they don’t.

If they ask you to get out of the car, move slowly and deliberately.  When they say, “Place your hands on the car and spread your legs” so they can search you, cooperate.  Even if the search turns out to be something that can later be suppressed in court, this is not a courtroom.

Police have a very dangerous job where any encounter can, in the blink of an eye, go from routine traffic stop to life threatening situation.  Of course they are going to be hyper-sensitive to anything suspicious, or worse, aggressive behavior.

Conversely, someone who is being stopped by the police– even if they have nothing to hide– is going to be nervous and anxious.  This can be a volatile mix that often results in misunderstanding that can escalate the situation far beyond the original offense.

The worst thing anyone can do in a police encounter is to become combative and or verbally abusive when addressing the police.

Even if they’re a Pittsburgh Steeler.




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Patrick NightingalePolice Encounters Are Not A Courtroom– Even When You’re A Pittsburgh Steeler
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Pokemon Go: Caution and Common Sense

landscape-1456483171-pokemon2The Pokemon Go app has caused a sensation across the nation. Children and adults alike are playing the game.

The object is to collect various characters who ‘appear’ in real locations via a phone app that uses mapping technology to incorporate the game into a real world, real time search.

On the one hand, the game has actually brought families together, with parents and even grandparents joining the kids in a neighborhood search for Anime characters that appear for a short time and then disappear.  The chance to ‘capture’ the more elusive characters can result in some intense competition to get to a location before anyone else.

The physical aspect of the game is almost an exercise program for players, especially when compared with the typical video game player, plastered to the sofa, surrounded by junk food.

As a friend of mine said, “At least it’s getting kids to go outside and play.”

Unfortunately, therein lies a multitude of hazards, and not just for children. Adults playing the game can easily and suddenly find themselves in life threatening situations, especially if they become too absorbed in the game and become unaware of their surroundings beyond what’s on the screen.

Without knowing how the mapping aspect works when placing characters in locations, I have to assume it doesn’t necessarily distinguish between a dangerous alley in a bad part of town and a busy shopping district. That alone could lead to a multitude of potential hazards for players.

Everything from getting hit by a bus to getting mugged, and worse, has already been reported by the media as players rush about with their eyes glued to their phones.

Players who trespass on private property are subject to criminal charges, and could even end up getting shot by some, “get off my lawn!” guy or a trigger happy security guard. Imagine one’s surprise to discover the local drug dealers and street gangs don’t appreciate strangers wandering around their turf with camera phones.

Consequently, the odds of having an encounter with the police are also much higher for people prowling around neighborhoods in search of “Vareon”.

You have to wonder how many burglary suspects will claim they were actually playing Pokemon Go.

The most dangerous aspect of Pokemon Go is the interactive features of the game.

This can, and already has, lead to robberies, rapes, abductions. Even the police have used the game to capture people with outstanding warrants, but those instances are rare compared to the criminal acts being perpetrated on unsuspecting players.

Children should not be allowed to play the game without adult supervision, while teens and adults who play need to exercise caution and common sense. If a character appears  in a location that seems unsafe, or involves trespassing, don’t go there, no matter how rare it is.

Never agree to meet anyone you don’t already know, or share personal info. That’s just an invitation for trouble, whether it’s Pokemon Go or any other social media.

In the event you or anyone you know gets charged with a crime as a result of playing Pokemon Go, give us a call. Who knows? We may set a legal precedent with the Pokemon defense.




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Patrick NightingalePokemon Go: Caution and Common Sense
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How to Handle Police Encounters

Can Police Lie?These are some basic rules for dealing with the police, and most are just common sense.

The first and most important rule is to remain calm.

The problem is, police encounters are often tense for everyone involved. Adrenaline flows, people become nervous and sometimes are not thinking clearly.

Take a couple deep breaths and stay focused on the Officer.

A sudden movement, even for the most innocent of reasons (reaching inside your jacket to retrieve your wallet, for example) can be interpreted as a threatening move by a police officer, unless you ask them first.

“Officer, I need to reach into my jacket for my wallet” or “My registration is in the glove box”.

By not communicating what you are doing, it’s possible you could be reaching for a weapon, or hiding something, which is probable cause for the Officer to investigate further, or even fear for their safety. And it can easily escalate a situation that may have started as a minor traffic stop, but ends up with a felony charge, or worse.

If an officer is approaching with their weapon drawn, it is, at least to them, an incredibly serious situation. It is absolutely imperative to remain calm, keeping your hands in plain sight and making no sudden movements.

In any police encounter, always speak clearly and respectfully, and follow their instructions. The minute the yelling, the outrage, the ‘my rights’ speech starts, all bets are off. No one likes to be told how to do their job, especially someone with a badge and a gun.

An encounter with the police is not a courtroom, unless you make it one. And, I’m sad to say that the cops become Judge, Jury, and yes, sometimes even Executioner in the Court of the Street. It’s a fight you will not win, and should do everything possible to avoid. It is the job of your Attorney to fight for your rights in court. Make your case there.

Remember, you do have the right to an Attorney before answering any questions if you are arrested, and beyond providing them with identification, say as little as possible, without being disrespectful. “I respectfully invoke my right to consult with my attorney before answering any questions.”

With the appalling sniper attack that left 12 Officers dead in Dallas fresh in the mind of every cop in America, it is imperative to keep in mind they have every reason to be cautious when approaching any situation. Even a routine traffic stop can turn deadly in a heartbeat.

To my friends in Law Enforcement, my sincerest condolences for the loss of your fellow officers. As always, we are all counting on your professionalism, training and selfless dedication to help your communities, your fellow officers, and our country, get through these difficult times.



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Patrick NightingaleHow to Handle Police Encounters
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Attorney Burnout? It’s Time To Walk Away.

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

Patrick testifying at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hearing on SB 3, Medical Marijuana, February 25, 2015.

Maybe after so many years of defending the accused, one can get jaded about the whole process. Burnout is certainly a factor in any high stress occupation, so it’s understandable how someone can ‘run out of gas’.

That’s the time to walk away, especially when your occupation includes defending the rights of the accused. The last thing someone in that situation needs is an attorney who just doesn’t care anymore.

You can’t fight for someone’s freedom if there’s no fight left in you.

I am currently working on an appeal that involved a first-time offender being advised to plead guilty to a felony Possession With Intent Charge at Pittsburgh City Court’s EDP exactly 6 days after the kid was charged.

Yep – first time offender is now a convicted felon and his lawyer didn’t even care enough to get a crime lab on the sheet of acid that the client swears was bunk.

I have another client who went through a similar situation in Florida many years ago. He was caught with a very small amount of cocaine. In fact, it was just a vial with some residue in it. That was enough for a possession charge, which in Florida is considered a felony.

Since he was driving at the time, his car was seized– a forerunner of the abuse we’ve seen in the seizure and forfeiture laws that were put in place as a weapon against drug traffickers. Those laws quickly became a weapon being used against average citizens, often with no conviction at all.

He hired an attorney, and ended up being tossed on the conveyor belt of justice. He may as well have had no representation at all, because the $2500 he paid (1987 dollars, btw) was a complete waste. His attorney had him accept a plea, for a minuscule amount of a drug that is as common in Florida as grains of sand on the beach.

No questions were raised at all. Why was he pulled over in the first place? What gave the arresting officer ‘probable cause’ to search the accused and his vehicle, in what actually started as a common traffic stop? What was the substance in the vial? There was no lab report at all. It could have been powdered sugar, for all the arresting officer could verify at the time of the arrest.

Instead, his attorney took a sizable fee and did… nothing.

That one mistake would follow my client for the rest of his life, but his attorney got paid. So, there’s that…

An attorney who stops caring about his cases, and is only interested in collecting fees or quickly getting rid of a case in order to move on to the next one, is someone who does harm in a situation where they are supposed to be helping. That is not justice.

So, if you are an attorney, and you get to the point where your “give a fuck” threshold is so low that you tell a first time offender to plead to a felony without even bothering to look at the EVIDENCE, then its time to rip up the law license.

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Patrick NightingaleAttorney Burnout? It’s Time To Walk Away.
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Halloween Means Stepped Up Police Activity

pittsburgh criminal defense attorneyThis week, the FBI issued a warning to police departments across the country. A group of anarchists supposedly threatened to create disturbances while wearing Halloween costumes and then ambush officers who respond.

However credible this threat is, it’s important to keep in mind that police will be on heightened alert this weekend.

Whenever police officers feel threatened, they’re naturally going to be more cautious and quite possibly, in some cases, more aggressive. They are going to respond quickly and decisively to any threats, real or imagined, regardless of the situation.

Halloween is already problematic for the police, considering there are a rather large number of people running around in disguise, in addition to the usual goings on associated with a holiday like Halloween.

You can bet there will be plenty of officers on the lookout for drunk drivers and anyone who is behaving suspiciously.

It might seem funny to pull a prank, or to drive around wearing a mask, but in light of this FBI warning, I strongly advise people to stop and think about what they’re doing this weekend. The police will already be edgy– don’t make it worse.

Go out, have fun, but keep in mind the police consider this threat very real, and they’re going to respond to situations with the warning in mind.

If you do have an encounter with the police, it’s important to remain calm and respectful. Do not make any threatening gestures, comply readily with requests for ID, etc., and above all, do not provoke them.

If you have any information regarding people who may be planning to ambush police, I urge you to report that activity. You can use anonymous tip lines and you may even save a life.

Everyone please have have a spooky, fun and safe Halloween. And as always, call if you need me.

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Patrick NightingaleHalloween Means Stepped Up Police Activity
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The Right to Remain Silent and Social Media: Rap It Up

giving police a statementYes, I meant “Rap”.

But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s talk about Witness Intimidation.

You’ve seen it in movies like, “The Godfather”, “Goodfellas” and a host of other Hollywood productions. In the TV show, “The Sopranos”, there are numerous scenes depicting a juror or potential witness in an otherwise innocuous situation, like waiting in line at the store, suddenly confronted by a total stranger, who never says anything that can be considered a direct threat, yet most definitely delivers a clear message: Keep your mouth shut.

What they don’t do is post it on Facebook, for all the world to see, complete with descriptions of potentially heinous outcomes should the warning go unheeded.

Yep. That actually happens and it’s a nightmare for a defense attorney to deal with. It’s damn near a public admission of guilt.

Sometimes it’s not the defendant doing this but a friend or a family member. Maybe they think they’re helping, or maybe they’re just seeking attention, but they are certainly doing major damage that can sink the whole ship. And they are opening themselves up to charges of their own. Witness Intimidation, Terroristic Threats, Witness Tampering and Conspiracy are all real crimes that carry serious penalties, and digitally documenting them is incredibly easy for the authorities to do.

You may as well buy a billboard that says, “Arrest Me”, or, “My friend is guilty.” It adds weight to the prosecutions case and reflects badly on the defendant in the eyes of the Judge.

And it’s just plain stupid.

Even more stupid is threatening the arresting officers.

Threatening a Police Officer is an extremely serious charge. Doing it online is just asking for trouble. Making a rap music video and posting it on YouTube–while your trial is still in progress, no less– depicting how you might torture and kill said police officers, pretty much rules out any hope of a successful defense after that. It’s gonna be really hard to make the case that the defendant is not a hardened criminal bent on killing when they actually make a rap video depicting themselves as hardened killers bent on murdering the Police.

Perception is a part of the court process. It’s why people who never dress up show up in court in a suit and tie. It helps in how the Judge and Jury perceive the defendant when they look like they care enough about their appearance to show respect for the court.

But making a rap music video, naming the actual arresting officers while making threats, well, even Pierre Cardin would have a tough time dressing that up.

Finally, the absolute dumbest thing a defendant can do is post a video of themselves showing off their ill-gotten gains and actually bragging about their crimes. At the end of the video, just say, “Now, come arrest me.”

Yes, all of these instances I’ve cited have actually occurred.

I do understand that during a criminal trial with serious charges, passions and emotions run high. Friends, lovers, family members all rally in some way to keep their loved one from being locked up. It’s also understandable that in the heat of the moment, things might be said one regrets later, but making a video does not constitute “the heat of the moment”. It’s a planned act calculated for effect, and if it can be proven that effect is to alter a criminal investigation, or the outcome of a trial, it can result in major headaches for everyone involved. Just the ramifications in terms of the defendants character being questioned can impact a case.

So if you are in trouble, do yourself a favor: Turn off the camera, step away from the keyboard, and as they say in “The Sopranos”,  keep your mouth shut.

(Addendum: The point of this piece is not the right to free speech. Some of the instances raised in fact involve free speech. But we’re talking about mounting a successful defense in a criminal case, not the right to incriminate oneself, because everyone has that right. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” That includes social media.)

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Patrick NightingaleThe Right to Remain Silent and Social Media: Rap It Up
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Social Media and the Right to Remain Silent, Part 3: Facebook

criminal lawAlthough there are many forms of social media out there– Linked In, Instagram, Twitter– It is often Facebook which comes back to haunt people in court.

Today we’ll look at one such instance involving family court.

Family court can often be a pit of despair for everyone involved. There are levels of resentment and bitterness at work that are very difficult to deal with and can stand in the way of resolution.

Case in Point:

A person who enjoys smoking marijuana decides to share their love of weed with the world on Facebook. They’ve posted several pictures ranging from their new bong to shots of themselves, blowing out a large cloud of smoke, proclaiming the heady buzz gained from a particular strain.

All of this would seem pretty innocent really, in today’s climate of states legalizing Marijuana, but there are a couple of factors that one needs to consider before sharing anything marijuana related on social media.

#1: Marijuana is a schedule 1 narcotic, according to the Federal Government. You may as well be posting shots of your heroin rig as far as they’re concerned.

#2: Marijuana is still illegal in Pennsylvania.

#3: The judiciary system, despite a more overall lax attitude towards pot, tends to frown on ANY drug use by parents involved in a custody battle.

And suddenly, those funny shots posted on Facebook of friends getting loaded, rear their ugly head in court.

Ex-spouses involved in a child custody case can be pretty darned spiteful, seeking any advantage in court to gain custody of their kids. They will peruse their former partners social media interactions looking for anything they can use. Photos of a night on the town, drinking with friends, suddenly become fodder for tales of a raging alcoholic, incapable of raising children.

And drinking alcohol is legal!

Imagine now what can happen when the photos are of illegal activity.

Such was the case for the parent with the new bong, Their ex saw the photos, contacted the court and, you guessed it, sued for custody.

Suddenly, a parent is facing the loss of their children, all from a bad decision to post an otherwise harmless photo of their new bong.

In this particular case, the court ordered a drug test, in which a positive for marijuana use was the determination. Over the next three months, the parent (AND their current partner) had to take regular tests to show they had stopped using. Depending on things like usage and body fat, marijuana will remain detectable in a person’s system for a month or or more. In this instance, it took a full three months to clear all traces of the drug from the person’s system. During that time, they were fortunate that, having no criminal record, the parent was allowed to keep custody of their child, as long as the tests came back showing a marked decline in the amount of THC until reading zero.

So even though they were eventually exonerated and were able to keep custody, they lived through a period of great stress, all from posting a photo of their new bong and a puff of smoke.

In Part 4, we’ll talk about how social media can absolutely destroy any hope for an effective defense in a more serious criminal trial.

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Patrick NightingaleSocial Media and the Right to Remain Silent, Part 3: Facebook
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Social Media and the Courtroom- The Sting

Courtroom Defense AttorneyIn the first installment we talked about how the right to remain silent includes social media.

Ultimately, we’re going to look at some specific instances of social media activity coming back to haunt people in the courtroom.

But first, let’s consider how law enforcement uses social media to investigate criminal activity.

A friend of mine related a story to me about how the police use social media to identify individuals like pedophiles or to conduct drug dealer investigations. Police will often set up fake Facebook accounts to snare a variety of criminal types, but none are more active than those searching for pedophiles.

An officer will create an account using a photo of an underage girl, for example. It’s usually one of those photos where the young lady is trying to look older and sexy, as so many young women try to do on social media.

The incident my friend relates is about a cop who was being lazy, thereby making a page that would fool only the dumbest of criminals.

I have a teenage daughter, and we monitor her Facebook activity as best we can. In the process, I have taken note of how she and her friends interact, the kinds of things they post, the way they decorate their pages with digital bling.

My friend works in entertainment and social media, so he regularly deals with a large number of friend requests. Because his feed sometimes contains harsh language or touches on topics he feels are inappropriate for children, he only accepts requests from people age 18 and up.

“The one exception I make is when I am friends with the kid’s parents” he says. “And even then, I draw the line at 16, and they must have their parents permission or I won’t add them. I became very uncomfortable on one occasion when I noticed a friend’s daughter, who was 13 at the time, had been commenting on my posts. Because my posts are set to public viewing, she was seeing them turn up in her mom’s feed. I wrote her mom a note and suggested she adjust her daughter’s settings to block posts from my feed. She did and we’ve had no issues since.”

The tale he relates about the “Lazy Cop” (his term) is both amusing and alarming.

“I get this request from a very pretty young lady” he said. “Can Police Lie?The first thing I notice is we have no friends in common, but sometimes, because I’m in entertainment, I take into account this person may have seen my post activity and simply finds my posts amusing, so the first thing I do is check their page out, and the first thing I look at is their age. If they’re under 18, I drop them a note explaining I don’t accept friend requests from people under 18, because I don’t want to hurt their feelings. But this page was different. It looked like it was a grown man’s version of what a teenage girls profile would look like. Very little bling, no kittens at all, no silly girlish posts from friends, no talk of boys they like, or music young people are listening to. Just a series of posts– very few from her– from creepy older men thanking her for the friend add, or worse, making sexually charged remarks and suggestions. After a few moments, I realized it was a fake profile.”

What my friend had encountered was a classic online “sting” operation. Once he realized it, he could have simply declined the request and moved on, but he didn’t.

“It really kind of bothered me” he says. “I thought, ‘Jeez, could you try a little harder, Officer?’ I mean, I’m all for busting perverts who target children, yet this was so obvious to me, I felt I had to say something, so I wrote the officer a note.”

Basically, my friend took a few moments to make some suggestions about how to make the page more believable. I couldn’t help but laugh as he described taking the officer to task for a sloppy job and lambasting him (or her) for not including any kittens at all!

But something inside me said, “Damn, he’s right.” I mean, I have a teenaged daughter and I certainly want the police to bring their A-Game when engaging in this type of activity. Here was an example of bad police work, the kind of thing that a former Prosecutor like myself finds unacceptable. If you’re going to engage in sting operations, you better cross your “T’s” and dot your “I’s”.

My friend used the term, “Creepy Older Men”, and I’m sure some were. Others might just be careless, and automatically approve a friend request from a pretty girl without first checking who and how old she was. As a Criminal Defense Attorney, I cringe at the thought of how this might play out should it be revealed during a criminal trial or a child custody case. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and even if it was an innocent mistake, a revelation like this could do serious damage to the credibility of the person in question on many fronts.

So the next time a pretty young girl sends a friend request, verify her age before deciding to become friends. A forty year old man has very little in common  with a 16 year old girl, so why a grown man would even accept such a request is questionable in the extreme.

And to my friends in law enforcement, please do some research before setting up fake profiles.

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Patrick NightingaleSocial Media and the Courtroom- The Sting
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