WHEN LESS IS MORE:
Why keeping quiet about legal issues helps in the long run
By: Brett W. Stedman, Esquire
We live in the time of the greatest and most rapid expansion of information and communication in the history of our planet. During the past two decades, our country has evolved from a nation of land-line telephones and the morning newspaper to cell phones, the internet, email, text messaging, instant messaging, social networking websites, and beyond. It is hard to say where or if this explosion of information and communication technology will end. While these new methods of communication and the benefits of being able to obtain information at the snap of a finger are astounding, too much of a good thing can often lead to unintended consequences.
This ability to communicate openly and freely is quite modern. Our founding fathers, on the other hand, felt that it was so important to be able to keep quiet that they created the 5th Amendment that gives us all the right to remain silent when we are held in custody by the police. We should all listen to our country’s founding fathers when we are likely to be involved in the legal system. At the very least, we should recognize when our words are not only heard but are available to be viewed or even saved to be used against us in the future.
Attorneys commonly engage in tactics that seek to discover the words of opposing parties and witnesses. In my experience, it is helpful to think about the following common sense practices when dealing with information or communications technology:
1) Don’t send emotional texts or emails. All too often, people’s emotions take over when they send texts or emails. A person often sends text messages or emails to others in the heat of the moment that he or she would never dream of sending if they had stopped to think about the situation. It is also problematic that you cannot take back a text message or email once it is sent. These messages often portray the sender as violent or unstable, when the sender is often neither. To make this worse, once texts and emails are sent, there is no way to generally go back and delete what you wrote. These items are frequently used as evidence in family law and criminal cases.
2) Be aware of social networking. Remember that whenever you post anything online, especially on Facebook or other sites, you are posting it for all the world to see. While these sites may allow you to limit sending the items to only specified groups, you have no control over who those “friends” send your messages or posts too. It is particularly unwise to air your grievances against opposing parties in pending litigation. These statements can and will be used against the person making them.
3) Think before you send or post a message. Remember that your messages could potentially be used against you. Do you really want the entire world to see what you’ve done on Facebook? Do you want the courts to see an angry tirade that you sent via text or email? While electronic devices have made communication more impersonal, we all forget about the fact that these messages are very rarely private.
These are rules that anyone should consider when using their cell phones, the internet, or other technology. This is even more important when people are involved in litigation. Never post anything about your case on the internet or discuss it with the opposing party. Put yourself in a position where your attorney can help you obtain a favorable conclusion to your case.
Brett is an associate in our firm’s civil litigation department. He also practices in our criminal law and family law departments.
THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IN THIS ARTICLE IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATION PURPOSES ONLY. NOTHING IN THIS ARTICLE IS INTENDED AS LEGAL ADVICE, NOR SHOULD IT BE INTERPRETED AS SUCH. IF YOU NEED ADVICE REGARDING LEGAL MATTERS, SEEK THE ADVICE OF AN ATTORNEY.