TX Prosecutors Infiltrate My Space Accounts for Minor Crimes

Hard to believe that a message board for the Texas District Attorneys' Association is public, but it is. It's also revealing in its revelation of tactics prosecutors use for minor offenses.

Via Grits for Breakfast, here's the thread. Grits says:

Be careful who you agree to let become one of your MySpace friends - what you blog can and will be used against you if they turn out to be a police investigator.

I'm going to reprint much of the thread below in case it's taken down.

Jim Tirey, Member
posted 12-05-06

Facts: Two juveniles set fire to a box and some papers and then a pile of clothing in the middle of our Wal-Mart store during the early morning hours. The papers did not burn, apparently, and the clothing fire was discovered by some customers before it went very far. I have statements from both juveniles confessing their involvement in this offense.

My question is, the arson statute does not seem to cover setting fire to personal property, unless you look at Section 28.02(f). That would seem to make setting fire to personal property inside a building a third degree felony. However, 28.02(f) refers back to 28.02(a)(2), which would not seem to apply under my facts.

I think if I have to go with criminal mischief, I am stuck with at most a Class B. It really is going to tick me off if these two get away with a misdemeanor when they do something so dangerous and destructive. Any comments are appreciated.

Patrick Wilson
posted 12-05-06

Sounds to me like a good case for attempted arson - a 3rd degree felony.

Stacey Brownlee
posted 12-05-06

No arson IMHO....

This is a frequent juvi issue as the little darlings love to burn things (normally more like toilet paper in a trash can in the school bathroom)but without more, I think its a stretch to prove intent.

Checked their myspace accounts ? If they are computer savvy I'll bet they bragged about it online.

Jim Tirey
posted 12-06-06

Two Things

(1) I have never understood why you cannot infer an intent to destroy a building when one of these nice kids sets fire to something inside the building, but apparently the law does not allow that inference; and

(2) I just checked MySpace. One of these kids apparently does not have a MySpace page. THe other has several, including one that was last updated a few days ago, but they are all private. I do not think that I can very well invite her (or whatever you do on MySpace) to be my friend and let me see her page. I am reasonably sure she might recognize my name and refuse. Is there some way I can get to look at the page without using outright deception?

I had not thought about deadly conduct. Maybe I will allege attempted arson, criminal mischief, and deadly conduct, and drop some things off along the way. I appreciate the thoughts.

posted 12-06-06

Could you have an investigator invite your D as a friend? I would think that'd be no different than chatting up a child molester online, and you'd only have your investigator monitoring the site, not even necessarily engaging in conversation. Just a thought.

Jim Tirey
posted 12-06-06

Do you see any problem if a probation officer looks on MySpace, as an investigator would? I am afraid I do not have the luxury of an investigator. We had a scare involving the school, Friday the 13th, and threats of a shooting back in October, and I know that the probation office was able to get on and monitor the chat regarding that incident. I just do not want to have any ethical/evidentiary problems if we happened to get something good from these kids. I should add that they both gave statements confessing to setting the paper on fire, but each fingered the other regarding who set the clothes on fire.

posted 12-06-06
I think it would be better if it was law enforcement, such as your arresting officer.

posted 12-07-06

Stacey, How do you check someone's my space acct?

Stacey L. Brownlee
posted 12-07-06

It can be a complicated process if you don't know your kid's profile name. Best way is to get their profile name (your local SRO might be able to help you with that). If you don't get that lucky then you will have to do it the hard way and go to myspace.com there is a search engine that allows you to search several avenues, web, myspace, people...

I generally start with searching just in myspace.
If you're lucky you can type in their given name and it will take you to their profile. If not, then you have to be creative. Next, I generally try their first name and city, then last name and city, and then if I've come up with nothing and I have some time, I search just the city (not to bad if your searching a little town like Liberty Hill, impossible if you search somewhere like Austin).

Of course your next issue will be as above, if they have their account set to private. Then you either have to get their password or make your own account and asked to be invited in. Fortunately, most kids HATE going private and only do so if their parents make them.

Good luck !! I've gotten some GREAT stuff off myspace.

More from Grits:

I wonder how many investigators and cops are "monitoring" private MySpace accounts, having used this ruse to pretend to be a "friend" when they really are seeking evidence to prosecute?

I agree with Grits here:

If they have a need to see this girl's MySpace account, prosecutors should go to the judge and ask for a search warrant. And if they don't have probable cause to get a warrant, they shouldn't send cops surreptitiously lurking onto young girls' private MySpace pages, or anybody else's.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Where's the (none / 0) (#1)
    by Patrick on Thu Dec 07, 2006 at 10:33:45 PM EST
    expectation of privacy?

    Private My Space sites (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Dec 07, 2006 at 10:53:40 PM EST
    they are talking about private sites, where one needs an invitation from the site writer to view it.  They are not available to all.

    Sorry missed that... (none / 0) (#6)
    by Patrick on Fri Dec 08, 2006 at 08:52:04 AM EST
    I would tend to agree then...It's clearly analogous to a ruse entry into a home.  I would think it's a violation.  

    invitation under false pretenses (none / 0) (#3)
    by roy on Thu Dec 07, 2006 at 11:01:47 PM EST
    The investigator / cop is, basically, invited.  But the invitation is secured under falsish pretenses.

    Is evidence admissible if it's acquired by out-of-uniform cops knocking on the door to a house politely asking to come in, and the suspect lets them in without asking who they are?  How about if the cops are disguised as something more innocuous, like, say girl scouts?

    (disclosure: mostly I just chuckled at the thought of cops in girl scout outfits, and wanted to share)

    "acquired" (none / 0) (#4)
    by roy on Thu Dec 07, 2006 at 11:11:48 PM EST
    I didn't think that through very well.  The real-world analog would be cops getting into the home under false pretenses and seeing something related to a crime, not taking something.  Can they testify about what they saw?

    Someone will correct me if I'm wrong. (none / 0) (#7)
    by Patrick on Fri Dec 08, 2006 at 08:55:14 AM EST
    Is evidence admissible if it's acquired by out-of-uniform cops knocking on the door to a house politely asking to come in, and the suspect lets them in without asking who they are?

    If they don't ask who they are it would be probably be legal.  If the cops lie about who they are or their purpose, then I believe the entry would be unlawful.  A perfect example is a suspected criminal has his house of for sale.  If a cop, who really wants a look inside for investigative purposes, poses as a prospective buyer, is allowed in, sees something incriminating and seizes it, the evidence would be suppressed.  


    while i agree that (none / 0) (#5)
    by cpinva on Fri Dec 08, 2006 at 08:06:18 AM EST
    what these kids was dangerous, i have to question the amount of scarce, allocable resources being used to pursue it, since the DA already has charges to go forward with. the distinct impression i get is that he wants to "make an example of them".

    perhaps he's considering running for higher office, and plans to use this prosecution of dangers to society in his campaign ads?

    Cops can lie (none / 0) (#8)
    by atlanta lawyer on Fri Dec 08, 2006 at 02:46:00 PM EST
    Off the top of my head, in general terms, and without doing the research:

    Cops can come in undercover, and even lie about who they are, and the evidence wouldn't be suppressed. There used to be a SNL skit, I believe called "Goby's Room" where Horatio Sand's character, a pot head, often said "Are you a cop, b/c you have to tell me if you are." Not true.

    However, there's a good chance, if the person has already been charged, they have also obtained a lawyer. If the state speaks to them about the case, it will likely violate the attrorney-client priviledge.