How Your Internet Search History May Be Used Against You in a Sex Crimes Trial
July 26th, 2019 by Tad Nelson in Sex Crime
The Internet is a wonderful tool that allows access to information in an unprecedented manner. But it is an equally useful tool for prosecutors and police looking for evidence to convict a defendant. In particular, a defendant’s Internet search history often proves detrimental in the context of sex crimes and sexual offenses.
Ex-Peace Officer Receives 25-Year Sentence for Raping 15-Year-Old Student
Consider this recent decision from the Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston, Jones v. State. A jury convicted the defendant in this case of sexual assault of a child, which resulted in a 20-year prison sentence. On appeal, the defendant challenged the prosecution’s use of his Internet search history as evidence, among other things.
The crux of the prosecution’s case was that the defendant, a peace officer in his 30s, sexually assaulted a 15-year-old student at the high school he was assigned to patrol. As part of their investigation, police collected and analyzed the defendant’s phone. This revealed the defendant performed searches for the following items:
- the 15-year-old student’s Instagram account;
- Plan B birth control pills;
- the motel where the defendant allegedly conducted his first sexual assault of the student;
- a type of lap dance the student allegedly performed for the defendant; and
- a web page that contained nude images of students at the same high school as the accuser in this case.
At trial, the defendant argued the Internet search evidence was inadmissible, as it was irrelevant and would only serve to unfairly prejudice the jury. The judge disagreed and admitted the evidence. On appeal, the First District agreed with the trial court the defendant’s objections lacked legal merit.
Indeed, “[e]ven if the evidence of the internet searches” were inadmissible, the appeals court said, “the admission of this evidence was harmless because substantially similar evidence was admitted without objection.” For example, the prosecution introduced pictures of the student that the defendant downloaded from her Instagram account.
More to the point, the First District noted the student herself “testified in detail regarding the events leading up to the assault and the assault itself, and much of her testimony was corroborated by other evidence that was admitted without objection, including other data extracted from [the defendant’s] cell phone.” And there was nothing to suggest the Internet search evidence played any substantial role in the jury’s deliberations–which lasted just 16 minutes, according to the Court of Appeals.
Speak with a Houston Sex Crimes Defense Attorney Today
Even when the contents of your internet searches are not the difference between conviction and acquittal, they can still provide important evidence that may be used against you in court. This is why it is critical to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer anytime you are suspected of a sex crime or sexual offense, especially those involving a minor.