The California Supreme Court has ruled that the defence in a gang-related murder trial can obtain private postings from social media companies.
The court’s decision Wednesday upheld a ruling by the judge overseeing the San Francisco trial and noted that the judge’s findings strongly justify access in this case, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
It’s the first time such an order has been enforced in a California court, the Times said.
Last year, the California Supreme Court ruled that the defence in the gang case could have social media postings that were public at the time of the killings, but that ruling did not deal with private postings.
Under the latest ruling, the judge will review any postings obtained from the companies and decide which ones will be given to the defence.
The decision is not binding on other courts, but it is expected to be cited by defence attorneys seeking private posts in other cases.
For years, social media companies have opposed efforts by criminal defence attorneys to access accounts, arguing that federal privacy law – the Stored Communications Act – bars co-operation except in limited circumstances.
In the past, only law enforcement has been able to force social media companies to provide private postings
The criminal case is the prosecution of a killing and attempted killing involving a June 2013 drive-by shooting in San Francisco.
A 14-year-old boy who participated in the shooting told police that beforehand he had interacted with the slain victim, who had “tagged” him on Instagram in a video that included guns.
The boy said he shot that victim six times and asserted that the victim “would have done the same thing to us.”
The boy was tried in juvenile court and found to be responsible for the murder of Jaquan Rice Jr. and attempted murder of Rice’s girlfriend, who was a minor. The boy was declared a ward of the court, and he was committed for a term of 83 years, four months to life.
Two other defendants, Derrick Hunter and Lee Sullivan, were separately indicted on murder, attempted murder and other charges.
Prosecutors say Hunter, Sullivan and the minor are members of a gang and that Rice was killed because he was part of a rival gang and threatened the boy via social media. They recently invoked their right to a speedy trial, and a jury was selected earlier this month.
Defence attorneys have served subpoenas on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in an effort to gain access to private, public and deleted postings from the accounts of Rice and a prosecution witness.
Emails from The Associated Press seeking comment on the court ruling were sent to the companies Friday.