The internet has provided new sources of communication, some bordering on illegal, and the laws are having a tough time keeping up with the new technology.
Police videotape a drug transaction and arrest. The tape became part of the evidence in the case. Since it is part of the evidence, under full disclosure to the defendants’ lawyer, Robert DiNieri, requested a copy of the tape. The lawyer then allegedly handed over the copy to the defendants and it wound up on the internet sites Facebook and You Tube.
Once the tape is posted on the internet, anyone is allowed to comment on the evidence, including comments on the identification of the informant in the drug bust. This puts the informant in eminent danger. “There will be no such thing as a confidential informant,” commented one local police chief after being notified on the incident. “God forbid something happens to the informant,’ said another chief not wishing to be identified.
The video was taken down from both sites after a request by the Sheriff’s Office, but it was too late. Word spread across the internent on the identity of the informant.
On Monday, the Wayne County Office of Sheriff reported the arrest of Melinda A. Cruz, age 24, of 35 Columbia Street in Clyde and Clarence J. Jackson, age 24, of 2 Carriage Drive in Orchard Park, NY. On Tuesday, Thomas M. Horton, age 24, of 35 Columbia Street, Apt. 1 was arrested. All three were charged with Tampering With a Witness in the 4th Degree.
Further investigation into other persons involved in the posting of links on their Facebook to the YouTube video are being conducted and other arrests are expected.
It is alleged that Cruz, Jackson and Horton in part, tampered with a witness by disclosing and disseminating detailed information and evidence regarding a pending Wayne County Court proceeding (the video tape). It is also alleged that Cruz and Jackson utilized Facebook and You Tube websites to disseminate the information and evidence.
Both Cruz, Jackson and Horton were arraigned in front of the Honorable Lester Carr Sr. in the Town of Galen Court where they were remanded to the Wayne County Jail pending the posting of bail, or their next court date scheduled for next month.
Although, the defendants in the drug case did, under law, have every right to the evidence disclosure against them, the District Attorney’s Office felt that by posting the video, they put the identity of the informant in danger. “We are going to have to tighten our ship here if we can. We have never had to deal with this before,” said Healy. He added that, in the future, he would request the Courts to allow defense attorneys and defendants the right to view such tapes at the District Attorney’s office, without actually leaving with a copy of the tape.
Unfortunately, when evidence disclosure laws were originated, no one knew about the world-wide web and the impact it would have. The video was posted, but who is to say who posted comments on the identity of the police informant?
“They (the defendants) repeatedly identified the informant by name. They all knew who each other was, it was not like they were strangers. Hundreds and hundreds of friends posted comments about the ‘snitch’ and what would happen to them,” said Assistant District Attorney Chris Bokelman. “The tape should have never been given to the defendants, in my opinion,” he added.
Chris feels that as a misdemeanor count, the standards for tampering are lower and no actual direct threat has to be proven. He said it was obvious by the comments, including one by one of the defendants that allegedly tried to contact the informant and their family, that a crime was committed. “It was obvious they did not want the informant to cooperate, or show up.”
In yet another online scenario that has popped up, can a person be charged with Aggravated Harassment if they have not sent any threats directly to a victim, but rather posted them on their own Facebook page?
Nationally, there have been well-publicized cases of suicides after various internet postings of bullying and video disclosures of private sex acts. The public may be horrified by the actions of those doing the postings, but in all cases, the legal system often flies by its pants trying to determine an actual crime.
Currently, several states are attempting to modify laws to deal with such internet threats and postings.
Successful prosecutions have been made in the case where child pornography comes into play. A teenage boy in Webster was prosecuted when he posted a sexual pose by a Town of Ontario teen girl several years ago in a cell phone sexting case. In that case, the girl sent a sexual picture she took with her cell phone. The boy forwarded the picture and it spread via the internet. The boy eventually pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge as a youthful offender, given a conditional discharge and community service.