A series of tweets have helped upgrade a California resident's vehicular manslaughter charge into a charge of murder because of their morbid tone. The Oakland Tribune reports that 18-year-old Cody Hall received the initial charge late last month for allegedly hitting and killing a bicyclist with a speeding car. But prosecutors have now managed to elevate the charge partially because he had allegedly invited his followers to "come on a death ride with me," tweeted that he'd driven 140 miles per hour on an interstate highway, and retweeted the phrase "drive fast live young" (which appears to be lyrics from a recent Tyga song) — though the remarks may not have coincided with the incident in question.
"Come on a death ride with me."
It isn't uncommon for social media posts to prompt criminal charges — the Tribune even reports that prosecutors' use of Hall's tweets is legally similar to using a handwritten letter. Whether it's appropriate in this case is another question: Hall's tweets may fall outside the scope of what's generally used to upgrade a charge to murder. Usually, recklessly fleeing police or driving intoxicated after a prior DUI conviction can lead to an upgrade, reports the Tribune, making tweets a distinct standout. The prosecution may now use the tweets in an attempt to prove that Hall acted with malice.
The development shouldn't be so surprising: tweets and other social media posts are being used more and more often not just as evidence, but to help catch suspects in the first place. Perhaps most notably, the rape of a student in Steubenville, Ohio was brought to light by a series of tweets as well as photos and video that were actually taken by those involved. In other cases, it's been determined that courts can even require that defendants hand over their Facebook password to collect further details. The wide spread of evidence on social networks can be horrifying for victims — but the end result may be that it's easier for police to determine what really happened.