A Pennsylvania man imprisoned for more than a year after being convicted of drunk driving was released from prison when a Tweet showed his whereabouts at the time of the alleged accident. The use of social media has been described as a "new phenomenon in development in terms of its utility in criminal court," and there are no Pennsylvania laws on best practices for investigation of social media information during the prosecution process. Still, in this case, when the defendant was able to use social media to provide details about the time of the accident, the evidence was enough to result in his conviction being vacated.
As technology evolves, there may be many new opportunities for the use of online information and metadata in defending against criminal charges. Those who are accused of impaired driving should speak with a legal professional about all of the different possible tools they can use in their legal defense.
How Social Media Helped with a PA Man's DWI Defense
In this particular case, which was reported on by The Mercury News, a crash occurred at an intersection and a driver left the scene of the collision. The driver was found at his home half a mile away. He was showing signs of intoxication at the time he was questioned, and he was having a difficult time keeping his balance. Law enforcement officers believed the crash had occurred shortly after 1:00 AM and believed they had managed to find and question the driver shortly after the time of the accident. Because he was intoxicated when they questioned him and the initial reports indicated the accident had happened very recently, the driver was arrested for DWI.
The driver had two prior convictions for driving under the influence in 2005, so his arrest for DWI meant he was facing serious penalties. The driver admitted he had left the scene of a crash, which was a minor collision. However, he claimed the accident had happened at 11:30 PM and not at 1:00 AM. He said he did not start drinking until after the collision.
Police and prosecutors initially did not believe him, and the prosecutor took the DWI charges to court where the defendant was found guilty of both a DUI and of leaving the scene of the accident. He was sentenced to between one and two years imprisonment.
After he was in jail for a year, it ultimately emerged that tweets he had sent on the evening the crash showed he was miles away from the accident scene at the time the accident was initially alleged to have occurred. A cell phone expert testified the geo-positioning on the cell phone meant the driver could not have been at the crash scene at 1 AM, the time he was drunk. Because of the tweets, his conviction was vacated and he was able to plead guilty to the lesser charge of leaving an accident scene.
DWI hit and run cases can be complicated because of establishing a timeline. The prosecutor has to prove a defendant was at the scene and impaired for a defendant to be convicted.