Social-Networking Important to Prosecuting Crime

More and more social media and text messaging are being used to fight crime.

By Traci Grant
|  Friday, Apr 20, 2012  |  Updated 5:32 PM PDT
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Facebook Important to Prosecuting Crime

Social-networking is becoming more important to fight crime.

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The story behind a San Mateo man who was sentenced this week to spend more time behind bars illustrates how social networking and texting has become an important tool in prosecuting some crimes.
   
A judge ruled that Allen Grabovetsky, of San Mateo, violated his probation by maintaining a Facebook account, despite being ordered to stay away from social networking sites. Last year, Grabovetsky was found guilty of a number of crimes, including felony stalking and threatening a former friend.

San Mateo County Assistant District Attorney Morley Pitt says it wasn’t hard to make a case against Grabovetsky because he sent his threats via text and also posted them on Facebook. Pitt said Grabovetsky wrote about wanting to put a knife through the head of the victim, kill the victim’s parents and “cook” the victim’s mother. Then, posted those statements in places where other people could see them.

For prosecutors, not only does that mean there is tangible evidence, but also dozens of witnesses, perhaps more. The situation is similar for text messages. Those threats are typed out, visible and attributable to a name and phone number.

Pitt said somewhere between eight and 10 years ago, he began to notice that cases involving threats were moving from verbal, for which you would have to rely on the credibility and veracity of the witnesses, to voicemails and, now, text and social network messages, where evidence is clearly left behind.

“Because people don’t actually see them doing it,” Pitt said, “it gives the defendants the ability to believe they’re anonymous, when it’s just the opposite. It’s hard to say, ‘I didn’t write this’ or claim ‘somebody logged in as me.’”

Pitt said the only real distinction between making threats in person and making them online from 3,000 miles away is the immediacy involved.

He said that is taken into consideration by police and in court. Prosecutors also look at whether “this is one throwaway line or a series of comments.”

“[In Grabovetsky’s case] it was clear he wasn’t standing next to the victim, but the threats were so pointed and so real,” Pitt said.

Prosecutors say Grabovetsky also threatened his victim over the phone. The victim put the call on speaker phone, so three witnesses also heard the conversation.

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