Facebook messages in police sting weren’t wrongly admitted in man’s jury trial

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The Indiana Lawyer on 7/30/2020 by Katie Stancombe

Facebook messages exchanged between a man wanted on warrant and a fake profile created by police were not wrongly admitted during his jury trial, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in a Thursday decision.

When Lafayette police learned that Michael Parker was wanted on a warrant from another jurisdiction and that he was possibly in the area, law enforcement obtained his photo from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and matched it to a photo and date of birth listed on Parker’s Facebook profile.

Law enforcement then created a fictitious Facebook profile account and began exchanging messages with Parker about selling a car. Parker then solicited the law enforcement officer in charge of the fake account to sell methamphetamine, and Parker was later detained at that location during their arranged meeting time.

Several small bags of meth, a pencil sharpener containing small bags of meth, and a digital scale with white residue were found in Parker’s pockets, as was his cell phone. The law enforcement officer who had been exchanging messages with Parker called him via the fake profile through Facebook Messenger, which prompted Parker’s cell phone to ring.

Parker was charged with multiple offenses, but ultimately convicted of Level 3 felony dealing in meth and Class C misdemeanor operating a vehicle without ever receiving a license.

During the jury trial, Parker’s counsel objected to the admission of the Facebook messages between him and the undercover law enforcement officer, arguing that the messages should be authenticated. However, the trial court overruled, finding that the evidence was “sufficient enough to establish to the Court that there’s a reasonable probability that these messages did come from Mr. Michael Parker’s Facebook account.”

An appellate panel affirmed, finding no abuse of the trial court’s discretion in admitting the Facebook messages in Michael Scott Parker v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-315. 

“We conclude that the evidence was sufficient to authenticate the messages as being authored by Parker. Even if the evidence was not indisputable proof that Parker wrote the messages, such proof was not required,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the panel.

“Any lingering doubts about whether Parker wrote the messages went to their evidentiary weight, not their admissibility. Based upon the record, we cannot say the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the messages.”