The Facebook Alibi: A Status Update Helps Prove a Suspect's Innocence

By Matthew Harwood

It's easy to criticize the culture of Facebook, that solipsistic universe where everyone believes their "friends" care what they're doing at any hour in the day. But for 19-year-old Brooklynite Rodney Bradford, it was a lifesaver.

His status update on the night of October 17 at 11:49 a.m., asking where his pancakes were, helped save him from being locked up. According to The New York Times:

At the time, the sentence, written in street slang, was just another navel-gazing, cryptic Facebook status update — meaningless to anyone besides Mr. Bradford. But when Mr. Bradford, 19, was arrested the next day as a suspect in a robbery at the Farragut Houses in Brooklyn, where he lives, the words took on greater importance. They became his alibi.

His defense lawyer, Robert Reuland, told a Brooklyn assistant district attorney, Lindsay Gerdes, about the Facebook entry, which was made at the time of the robbery. The district attorney subpoenaed Facebook to verify that the words had been typed from a computer at an apartment at 71 West 118th Street in Manhattan, the home of Mr. Bradford’s father. When that was confirmed, the charges were dropped.

“This is the first case that I’m aware of in which a Facebook update has been used as alibi evidence,” said John G. Browning, a lawyer in Dallas who studies social networking and the law. “We are going to see more of that because of how prevalent social networking has become.”

Reuland, Bradford's attorney, admitted to the Times that his client could have had someone else log onto Facebook for him to provide an alibi, but that's extremely unlikely he said because Bradford's father and stepmother both claim he was in Harlem at the time of the robbery.

Reuland called Bradford's status update the "icing on the cake."

What will be interesting in the future is whether the Facebook alibi will work on a district attorney's office or a judge when it is the sole piece of evidence providing an alibi.

♦ Facebook Status Updates by circulating/Flickr


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