Embarrassing Facebook photos and regrettable MySpace statements are starting to become commonplace in pre-sentencing reports and disposition hearings. At the same time, defendants and their advocates are acknowledging the power of social media as a tool to generate mitigating evidence.
...How deeply must defense attorneys delve into social media in representing their clients at sentencing? The U.S. Supreme Court in Townsend v. Burke, 334 U.S. 736, 741 (1948), cautioned that defendants ought to be guarded from punishments based on false or misleading information. It would seem that this injunction compels counsel to challenge sentencing information drawn from the social centers of cyberspace.
Due process must temper the unchecked use of aggravating social media evidence at sentencing, as well as arraignment and other proceedings. At the same time, these online forums are opening unprecedented opportunities for developing mitigating evidence that can provide courts with a fair picture of the person appearing for sentence.