Facebook Authentication: Page in Party’s Name, Uses His Unique Nickname Which Is Also An Email Address of His, Photos and Personal Information Are His, and He’s Seen Using His Phone Around the Time the Posts Are Made
Jones v. State, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 3794 (Tex. Ct. App. April 13, 2016):
Appellant, Stanford Dewayne Jones Sr., appeals his convictions on three counts of arson. He presents three issues on appeal contending that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions, (2) the trial court erred in the admission of evidence for impeachment, and (3) the trial court erred in admitting copies of Appellant's Facebook postings without proper authentication. We affirm.
In early November 2012, Appellant and his then girlfriend, Evelyn Hamilton, went to Lanzy Owens's Club, a Lufkin nightclub. Evelyn left after Appellant had several drinks and started "acting crazy." She soon received a call from the club to come pick up Appellant. She found Appellant somewhere in the club in a confused state, complaining of a broken finger and wearing only boxer shorts. Concerned that someone at the club had spiked his drink, Evelyn and Appellant's mother and brother took him to the hospital where he remained for three or four days.
On November 11, 2012, [*2] while Appellant was still in the hospital, he posted three statements to his Facebook page. The first said, "No tell your brother im ready to put a match to lufkin tx and watch this muthafucka burn down su wuu biz." The second posting, also from November 11, 2012, stated, "Enjoy a peaceful night get plenty of sleep because after tonight some of you will see heaven the rest of you go burn ya go burn slow." The last posting stated, "Im alive and all you muthafucka who want me dead you go die before me one by one lord forgive me for my sins."
Over a forty-eight hour period beginning on November 13, 2012, one day after Appellant left the hospital, six fires of suspected incendiary origin occurred in a relatively small area in Lufkin near where Appellant lived. One of the fires occurred at the nightclub where Appellant believed someone had spiked his drink. The fires ceased after Appellant's arrest. In a six count indictment, the State charged Appellant with intentionally setting all six fires. The State abandoned Count IV. The jury found Appellant guilty on three of the remaining counts and not guilty on the other two counts of arson. The trial court assessed his punishment at imprisonment [*3] for twenty years.
Admission of Facebook Postings
In his third issue, Appellant maintains the trial court erred in admitting into evidence printouts from Appellant's Facebook [*12] page that had not been properly authenticated.
Standard of Review and Applicable Law
The trial court's determination of authenticity is reviewable only for abuse of discretion. Tienda v. State, 358 S.W.3d 633, 638 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012). The trial court does not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence under Rule 901 if its conclusion that a reasonable juror could find the proffered evidence authentic is at least "within the zone of reasonable disagreement." Id.
The requirement of authentication or identification as a condition precedent to admissibility is satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims. Tex. R. Evid. 901(a).2 Given the diversity of electronic evidence, there is no single approach that will work in all instances. Tienda, 358 S.W.3d at 639. "Rather, as with the authentication of any kind of proffered evidence, the best or most appropriate method for authenticating electronic evidence will often depend upon the nature of the evidence and the circumstances of the particular case." Id.
2 Rule 901 was amended effective April 1, 2015. See n.2.
Fire Marshal McCool printed the Facebook posts in question directly from the internet. The Facebook page was in Appellant's name, not a nickname or an alias. Both Appellant's mother [*13] and girlfriend testified that Appellant sometimes referred to himself as "jboyheartofthanorth." McCool testified that jboyheartofthanorth was part of one of the email addresses linked to the Facebook page that was in Appellant's name. Appellant's date of birth, high school, and previous employer were accurately listed on the Facebook page according to his mother.
A picture of Appellant in a hospital gown was posted to his Facebook page during the time the hospital records show Appellant was in the hospital. The picture was posted on the same date as the incendiary messages threatening to put a match to Lufkin. Appellant's mother and sister observed Appellant on the phone during his hospital stay. Both acknowledged that Appellant was able to upload information to Facebook from his phone.
These circumstances are sufficient to support a finding by a rational jury that Appellant created the Facebook postings offered into evidence. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting them in evidence. Appellant's third issue is overruled.
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