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Massachusetts Court Denies Defendant’s Appeal in Social Media Case, Despite Argument Over Privacy Rights on Snapchat

In a recent opinion from a Massachusetts court regarding firearms offenses, the defendant’s appeal of his guilty verdict was dismissed with no relief. The defendant had originally been found illegally possessing firearms after an undercover police officer connected with him on Snapchat and saw videos of him carrying a revolver. On appeal, the defendant argued that the undercover officer violated his constitutional right to privacy. Disagreeing with the defendant, the court affirmed the guilty conviction.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, in 2017, a Boston police officer sent a friend request to a private Snapchat account that belonged to the defendant. The officer sent the request from an undercover account that he had created for the purpose of investigating crimes on social media. According to the officer, his username on the account was a pseudonym chosen at random, and the profile picture associated with his account was the default picture chosen by Snapchat.

The defendant accepted the undercover officer’s friend request. Upon reviewing the defendant’s posts on Snapchat, the officer came to realize that he was familiar with the defendant through his previous work as a police officer and that he knew the defendant was prohibited from carrying firearms because of prior criminal convictions.

About one month later, the officer saw a video from the defendant that depicted him carrying a silver revolver. He sent a team of officers to then search for the defendant, and these officers found the defendant in a nearby gym. They seized the defendant, recovering a revolver from his pants pocket. The defendant was then arrested and charged with multiple firearms offenses.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant argued that his privacy rights had been violated. He maintained that he expected his Snapchat posts to be private since his account was set to “private” and since he did not know the officer was undercover. Under the constitution, said the defendant, individuals have a right to post on social media without unreasonable government surveillance. Because these rights had been violated, the officer should not have been able to access the defendant’s video of him with a firearm, and thus he should not have been arrested and charged in the first place.

The court disagreed. Even though the defendant testified that he had put his Snapchat settings on “private”, it was his own choice to accept the undercover officer’s friend request. In the court’s opinion, if the defendant had truly been concerned about his privacy rights, he would not have accepted a request from someone he did not know. Thus, the defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and his appeal was denied.

Has a Violation of Your Privacy Rights Resulted in Criminal Charges?

If you have been charged with a Massachusetts gun crime, and you think your privacy rights have been violated in the process, call the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy to discuss your options. We are highly experienced in all areas of criminal law, and we will carefully listen to you describe your experiences so we can offer you the best advice possible. For a free and confidential consultation, contact our team at 617-367-0450.

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