Social media and Pennsylvania DUI arrests: Understanding the impact

The pictures, statuses and check-ins people post to their social media accounts may have an adverse effect on their DUI cases in Pennsylvania.

Each year numerous people are arrested for drunk driving throughout the state of Pennsylvania. In fact, there were 48,197 DUI arrests in 2013 alone, according to the state's Uniform Crime Reporting System. Often, those who find themselves facing such charges share details about their experiences and their cases, as they do the rest of their lives, via social media. Many fail to recognize the potential impact of social media on their DUI cases, however, and do not understand how what they post may be used against them.

Periscope live stream leads to drunk driving arrest

A Florida woman reportedly made news nationwide when she was arrested after live streaming herself while allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol using the Periscope app. CNN reported that in the live stream video, the 23-year-old woman admitted to being lost, drunk and driving with a flat tire. Local law enforcement reportedly got calls from concerned people who had seen the live streaming video. These reports purportedly prompted the authorities to track the woman down.

According to reports, law enforcement officers located the woman and initiated a traffic stop. They claimed that she appeared disoriented and was speaking slowly. The authorities also purportedly smelled alcohol. After she allegedly failed field sobriety tests, she was arrested for DUI. The woman also refused a breath test.

Pictures are worth 1,000 words

When out carousing with family or friends, people often post pictures of themselves and status updates, as well as check-in at locations. As was the case for the woman in Florida, such posts may prompt authorities to investigate further. Additionally, people's posts may be used as evidence that they were drinking before they were stopped and arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. The authorities may also use social media posts to establish a timeline of people's activities leading up to their arrests. In this way, they may be able to prove the validity of drunk driving charges, even when people refuse to perform field sobriety tests or submit to breath tests.

Fooled by privacy settings

Social media users often believe their posts are safe from the authorities' prying eyes because they have set their privacy settings to private. While this is helpful, it does not guarantee their privacy. People's social media connections may not have the same settings. Consequently, posts that people are tagged in may be publically viewable.

In addition, law enforcement officers may go so far as to create fake profiles and send friend requests in order to gain access people's posts. Even deleted posts are not safe. In some cases, the authorities may be able to obtain warrants to get posts that users deleted.

Seeking legal guidance

Drunk driving is considered a serious offense in Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. Thus, they are often investigated and prosecuted aggressively. In order to help protect themselves, people who have been charged with DUI may benefit from obtaining legal representation. An attorney may help defend their rights, and may advise them how to handle their social media accounts until their cases are resolved.