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Parker v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

February 5, 2014

Tiffany PARKER, Defendant Below-Appellant,
STATE of Delaware, Plaintiff Below-Appellee.

Submitted: Nov. 6, 2013.

Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for New Castle County, ID No. 01112001354.

Upon appeal from the Superior Court. AFFIRMED.

Santino Ceccotti, Esquire, of Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellant.

Andrew J. Vella, Esquire, of the Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellee.

Before HOLLAND, BERGER, JACOBS, and RIDGELY, Justices, and NOBLE, Vice Chancellor, constituting the Court en banc.

RIDGELY, Justice.

Defendant-below/Appellant, Tiffany Parker, appeals from a Superior Court jury conviction of Assault Second Degree. Parker claims that the Superior Court erred in admitting statements posted on her Facebook

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profile. The Superior Court admitted the evidence under Rule 901 of the Delaware Rules of Evidence. Parker argues that we should adopt the rule set forth in Griffin v. State, a Maryland Court of Appeals decision, to authenticate social media evidence. Under the Maryland approach, social media evidence may only be authenticated through the testimony of the creator, documentation of the internet history or hard drive of the purported creator's computer, or information obtained directly from the social networking site. Unless the proponent can demonstrate the authenticity of the social media post to the trial judge using these exacting requirements, the social media evidence will not be admitted and the jury cannot use it in their factual determination. Under this approach, social media evidence is only authenticated and admissible where the proponent can convince the trial judge that the social media post was not falsified or created by another user.

Conversely, the State advocates for the Texas approach, under which a proponent can authenticate social media evidence using any type of evidence so long as he or she can demonstrate to the trial judge that a jury could reasonably find that the proffered evidence is authentic. The Texas approach involves a lower hurdle than the Maryland approach, because it is for the jury— not the trial judge— to resolve issues of fact, especially where the opposing party wishes to challenge the authenticity of the social media evidence.

The Superior Court adopted the Texas approach and found that Parker's social media post was sufficiently authenticated by circumstantial evidence and by testimony explaining how the post was obtained. On appeal, Parker claims that social media evidence requires greater scrutiny than other evidence and should not be admitted unless the trial judge is convinced that the evidence has not been falsified. We disagree. We conclude that the Texas approach better conforms to the requirements of Rule 104 and Rule 901 of the Delaware Rules of Evidence, under which the jury ultimately must decide the authenticity of social media evidence. A trial judge may admit a relevant social media post where the proponent provides evidence sufficient to support a finding by a reasonable juror that the proffered evidence is what the proponent claims it to be. We find no abuse of discretion by the trial court in admitting the social media evidence in accordance with the Delaware Rules of Evidence. Accordingly, we affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

On December 2, 2011, Tiffany Parker and Sheniya Brown were engaged in a physical altercation on Clifford Brown Walk in the City of Wilmington. The disagreement was over Facebook messages regarding a mutual love interest. Felicia Johnson was driving by when she observed the confrontation and later testified that Parker appeared to be " getting the best of the pregnant girl [Brown]." Bystanders eventually separated the two, but the fight resumed when Brown returned with a knife. Bystanders again intervened, and shortly thereafter officers from the Wilmington Police Department separated the women.

Parker was indicted on one count of Assault Second Degree and one count of Terroristic Threatening. Parker argued that her actions were justified because she was acting in self-defense. The State sought to introduce Facebook entries that were allegedly authored by Parker after the altercation to demonstrate her role in the incident and discredit Parker's ...

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