SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — Attorneys for two suspects in the 2013 drive-by slaying of Jaquan Rice Jr. at a Hunters Point bus stop can obtain private postings from Bay Area social media companies to help in their defense.
The California Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday upheld a ruling by the judge overseeing the San Francisco trial and noted that the judge’s findings strongly justified access in this case.
The 14-year-old shooter was tried in juvenile court and found to be responsible for the murder and the attempted murder of Rice’s girlfriend, who was a minor. He was declared a ward of the court and committed for a term of 83 years, four months to life.
During questioning by investigators the teen said that before the shooting he had interacted with Rice Jr., who had “tagged” him on Instagram in a video that included guns.
He said he shot Rice Jr. six times and asserted that the victim “would have done the same thing to us.”
Last year, the California Supreme Court ruled that the defense 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 defense.
The decision is not binding on other courts, but it is expected to be cited by defense attorneys seeking private posts in other cases.
For years, social media companies have opposed efforts by criminal defense attorneys to access accounts, arguing that federal privacy law — the Stored Communications Act — bars cooperation except in limited circumstances.
In the past, only law enforcement has been able to force social media companies to provide private postings.
In this case, 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.
The pair’s attorneys served subpoenas on Facebook Inc., Instagram LLC and Twitter Inc. The subpoenas seek both private and public communications, including any deleted posts or messages, from the accounts of the homicide victim and a prosecution witness.