37ºF

Solving crimes is a snap thanks to social media

Criminals often leave an incriminating trail of evidence online

DETROIT – Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat -- most of us use the social media platforms to keep up with family and friends. And, if we are honest, we sometimes use them to boast a little about a vacation, our kids, or a promotion.

Well, we aren’t the only ones bragging. It turns out car thieves, drug dealers and burglars like to show off on social media, too.

It seems everywhere you go everyone is looking at their smart phones. It turns out criminals are no different, and the way they are using their technology is helping police and prosecutors. 

It wasn't long ago a call to 911 was the extent of our cell phone ability when witnessing a crime. Today citizens are videotaping crimes in progress giving police and prosecutors the proof they need to get convictions -- but, believe it or not, often the best proof often come from criminals themselves. 

The Defenders sat down with Oakland County prosecutor Jessica Cooper and her chief assistant Paul Walton for an education on law and order in today’s world of smartphones, Snapchats and selfies.

It wasnt long ago the world was shocked when Kwame Kilpatrick's mobile pager text messages went public. His own words led to a federal prosecution and a 28-year prison sentence for Detroit's former mayor. Today criminals are not only texting, they are posing and  posting pictures and videos that make prosecutions slam dunks.

These photos were recently presented in a United States federal case in Detroit -- photos discovered on smart phones and in social media posts. They show suspects flashing wads of money and powerful weapons, and the damaging evidence helps lead to guilty pleas.

Local 4 legal expert Neil Rockind says it's routine now to have text messages and social media posts in criminal cases. Prosecutors say YouTube videos, Instagram and other social media sites are an evidence gold mine. In many criminal cases, the motive often comes right from a text or post. 

For detectives, when a crime is committed it's now routine to search their name on the web. When the suspect denies being at the scene of a crime, they are shown a cell phone tower ping or a geo tracking post that puts their phone in an almost exact place at an exact time -- even when the bad guys think they deleted all the evidence.  

Prosecutors say with the advancement of technology and the number of new apps that keep coming out their ability to get evidence against criminals is only going to get better.