STATE v. DERRICK BOUKNIGHT, SC 19326
Judicial District of New Haven
Criminal; Whether Trial Court Properly Admitted into Evidence Information Gathered from Facebook on Deeming it Adequately Authenticated. The defendant was convicted of murder in connection with a New Haven shooting that left one man dead. At trial, the state sought to introduce evidence gathered from Facebook, a social networking website, through the testimony of police officer Stephen Manware. The state marked printouts of a Facebook profile page and three photographs associated with that profile as exhibits. In the jury's absence, Manware testified that he used Facebook to help locate the defendant after the shooting and that he found a Facebook profile bearing the defendant's name and his correct birthday and city of residence. The defendant objected to the admission of the Facebook exhibits, arguing that there was no evidence that he created or maintained the Facebook profile or uploaded the profile photographs. The trial court overruled the defendant's objection and admitted the exhibits into evidence, concluding that the evidence was sufficient to show that the exhibits were what the state claimed them to be. In so ruling, the court noted that State v. Eleck, 130 Conn. App. 632 (2011), stands for the proposition that "distinctive characteristics" of Facebook evidence, when considered in conjunction with the surrounding circumstances, may provide sufficient circumstantial evidence of authenticity. It further stated that conclusive proof that the Facebook profile actually belonged to the defendant was not required and that the issue of whether the page belonged to him went to the weight to be afforded the evidence, not its admissibility. The defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in ruling that the Facebook evidence was properly authenticated because (1) the court never found that he created or maintained the Facebook profile or posted the pictures, (2) the information on the Facebook profile was generic, easily obtainable, and lacked the "distinctive characteristics" required for authentication based on circumstantial evidence alone, and (3) the court never found that the Facebook photographs were accurate reflections of the scenes depicted and that the photographs were not altered. The state claims that the trial court properly exercised its discretion in determining that the Facebook evidence was adequately authenticated and that, even if that evidentiary ruling was improper, the error was harmless because the state presented overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt through the testimony of multiple eyewitnesses.