Depending on where you live, you may want to keep a watchful eye on what you post online about your cannabis habit. Police are increasingly using photos on Instagram and other sites as reasonable suspicion to launch investigations and snare tokers in stings.
Jeremy Clayton, a 30-year-old South Carolina resident, was arrested in December on charges he sold pot to an undercover cop. Police found him after he posted shots of his weed on his personal Instagram account and taunted local law enforcement.
Clayton allegedly posted a pic of himself sitting in front of a computer displaying the website of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department while holding a lit joint. He held up his middle finger in the photo.
He wasn’t busted specifically because he posted the photo, but that’s what led to his arrest.
Photos and posts about drug use aren’t grounds for prosecution; the First Amendment protects them as free speech. But these posts, especially the pics, can give cops the grounds to dig for more evidence. If you’re open about your identity online, it could even be probable cause to search your home.
Undercover cops approached Clayton
Clayton was arrested because he fell for a cop trick, failing to spot undercover narcs who approached him three times to buy pot. After he sold it, they raided his home, where they found more weed.
He now faces a felony count of marijuana distribution, a charge that carries a potential five-year prison sentence. All for posting a “disrespectful” photo, as Sheriff Leon Lott called it.
Clayton should probably have seen it coming, but the underlying problem is that police are tracking posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites to bust potheads. Under the First Amendment, these posts should be completely protected from police scrutiny. Sadly, that’s not the way the courts see it.
This is happening elsewhere. Earlier this year, a local police chief, also in South Carolina, threatened to hunt down a young man who posted a comment to the police department’s Facebook feed complaining that police were wasting resources busting a “stoner that’s not bothering anyone.”
“Thank you for sharing your views and giving us reasonable suspicion to believe you might be a criminal, we will work on finding you,” said interim Chief Ruben Santiago of the Columbia, S.C., Police Department.
Police monitor social media
There are ways to avoid this kind of trouble. First, always be careful what you post. That goes for everything about everything, but it especially applies when you’re talking about breaking the law.
Be circumspect about where your photos or information came from. They already know it’s yours, and they could probably prove it if they had the grounds for a warrant, but being vague will at least give them one less bit of self-incrimination to work with.
Never post actual pics of drugs under your own name. This is especially true if you’re going to include anything that suggests you’re a dealer, so keep that scale out of the shot.
Also, cover your tracks. Use the Tor browser or a virtual private network to disguise your IP address when posting about drugs. The NSA could still probably track you down, but they’re unlikely to devote those kinds of resources to your petty little weed stash – or even your multi-million dollar heroin supply business.