After being stopped in Texas for marijuana possession, rapper Wiz Khalifa did something that would make Justin Bieber proud. Instead of keeping a low profile while behind bars, the Pittsburgh pop star tweeted a selfie from jail and urged his millions of followers to use the trending topic #FreeTrapWiz. But was this decision to take a selfie one that can hurt him down the line? And what does this mean for everyday people that post incriminating information on social media platforms? We asked criminal defense attorney in Las Vegas Brian J. Smith about this case and what it means for Wiz, prosecutors and social media aficionados everywhere.
Jail selfie. pic.twitter.com/l01qB8oLrm
— We Dem Boyz (@wizkhalifa) May 25, 2014
Do you think this case would have been treated differently were he not a celebrity? For example, normally people are not allowed to keep their cell phones with them in jail…right?
That is correct, people are not allowed to have cell phones in jail. We don’t know for sure whether or not the TSA agents who arrested him were aware that he was a celebrity. However, that is a major gaffe on their part to allow somebody to have a cell phone inside of a jail cell and to be able to take a selfie and put it out on social media.
Will Kalifa’s “jail selfie” have additionally legal consequences?
It could have consequences in an indirect way. Whichever agency is going to handle this case is going to be extremely unhappy that Wiz Kalifa was able to do that, and prosecutors are going to be very upset that this happened. But will his actions lead to additional criminal charges? No, none that I know of. But it was not a wise move.
What advice would you give clients regarding posting information about their arrest on social media?
Admitting to a crime should definitely not go out on social media platforms. In fact, nothing should go out on social media. When I get a new client, I routinely put their name into Facebook to see if there is something else that I can learn about them. If I’m doing this, you can rest assured that the prosecutors are doing it as well. Lawyers have to be very careful about what they put out on social media as well, because you could find yourself in the position where you’re violating a client’s confidence or the attorney client privilege. I routinely advise my clients not to say anything about their arrest or their pending charges on Facebook or Twitter, or any of the other social media sites.
What if someone sets their social media to “private” and only talks about their case on social media with friends and family?
You don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in something that you’re putting out on social media. I post on Facebook fairly often and make sure that whatever I put out there is not going to come back to haunt me. I’m careful about what I put out there, and won’t disclose a great deal of information about my personal life because I know that I don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in that information.
Can the police impersonate a friend on social media and then use the information you reveal against you?
Yes, that information can be used against you. Law enforcement posing as a friend on Facebook is going to be viewed simply as “clever police work.” It’s not going to be viewed as entrapment. The best way to avoid that is to not say anything incriminating on social media. If you do, you’ll find yourself in a very sticky situation.
What if someone is famous and/or has a large social media following? Would you recommend they post their side of the story on social media?
I would give them very explicit instructions not to put anything on social media whatsoever. You don’t want them to shine even more of a spotlight on the situation then there’s already going to be. What you’re trying to accomplish is to get the media to lose interest in the case, which in some cases is not going to be possible to do. That’s where you have to be savvy enough to know what to say to the media, what to allow your client to say to the media and when not to say anything at all. It’s a delicate balance.
If you or someone you know is in legal trouble because of their actions on the Internet, contact Brian J. Smith today at (702) 380-8248 to set up a consultation.