Tennessee Supreme Court: Defense attorneys can subpoena social media history

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee Supreme Court ruling on the issue of social media evidence in criminal trials could have statewide implications.

On Wednesday, it denied the state’s bid to appeal a ruling that permits attorneys for former Tennessee football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams to seek social media communications from witnesses for their upcoming rape trials.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the two were accused of raping another female athlete during a party in November 2014. During an interview, police learned the accuser and three of her friends, who were acting as witnesses on her behalf, had discussed the case over social media. However, those records were never pulled by police or the prosecution as part of the investigation.

In response, the defense issued subpoenas for the information which was immediately challenged by the state.

Before this case, defense teams were unable to obtain such information unless it came directly from police or the prosecution. This ruling enables lawyers to pursue those communications by issuing subpoenas to witnesses

Trial dates for Johnson and Williams have been moved multiple times while this issue was debated. Johnson and Williams were indicted on aggravated rape charges in February 2015.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel first reported the Supreme Court’s ruling.