What's evidence of non-action?
November 21, 2009 8:45 PM   Subscribe

I spend a lot of time alone at home, playing video games, reading books, wasting time on the internet, etc. If I was accused of a crime, what evidence supports the fact I'm at home not really doing anything?

Is my cell phone location tracked with enough accuracy to show that I'm at home during a specific time duration? How about electricity and water usage? Does my car have any record of not being driven?
posted by meowzilla to Law & Government (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
A Facebook status update recently provided an alibi for a burglary suspect.
posted by carmicha at 8:47 PM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


A guy here in NYC was cleared of suspicion recently because police were able to determine he updated his Facebook status around the time the crime was committed, thus not being able to be at the scene of the crime.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:49 PM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Somewhat related to cm's link, it looks like one guy was in the process of being exonerated for murder because of his Metrocard activity.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:58 PM on November 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, cell phone use will ping local towers, so if you receive a text or call (or send either), your location will be pinpointed by area.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:00 PM on November 21, 2009


If you play games online, the online game provider may keep tabs on what you do; failing that, your raidmates might testify that yes, you were slaying $boss at 9 p.m. on Friday.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:11 PM on November 21, 2009


If you're accused of a serious crime, having logs of stuff you did on the internet and the like will be ineffective because the police will likely find this post, and will know you've researched the topic and could easily fake your alibi.
posted by floam at 9:12 PM on November 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


A guy here in NYC was cleared of suspicion recently because police were able to determine he updated his Facebook status around the time the crime was committed, thus not being able to be at the scene of the crime.

What?? That's completely insane and scary. So if I want to commit a crime all I need to do is give my password to my brother and have him make an update or something while I'm out doing my deeds?
posted by Ashley801 at 9:13 PM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


It doesn't matter one bit whether you can prove your cellphone is at home because you could simply have left without it. Not as though they are surgically grafted to your hip.
posted by Justinian at 9:23 PM on November 21, 2009


Browser history? The Wii sort of tracks game activity.
posted by wongcorgi at 9:36 PM on November 21, 2009


The facebook case is interesting because there's nothing there that cant be automated. Interestingly enough he was thought to be too stupid and casual to fake it. Interesting, but I doubt every judge or jury in the future will feel the same way:
And he pointed out that it could be argued the Facebook update was a set-up.

"On the Internet, nobody really knows it's you," he said. "A kid could set up an alibi by setting up a Facebook update."

Reuland finds that unlikely.

"This is a 19-year-old kid. He's not a criminal genius setting up an elaborate alibi for himself," he said. "This is not the kind of thing someone would fake." And if someone were going to fake it, he said, "They'd do it in a lot clearer way" than the inside joke that Bradford posted: "On the phone with this fat chick... where my IHOP."
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:38 PM on November 21, 2009


What?? That's completely insane and scary. So if I want to commit a crime all I need to do is give my password to my brother and have him make an update or something while I'm out doing my deeds?

He didn't get off because he had an alibi, he got off because they didn't have sufficient evidence to successfully charge him. Unless he's a complete idiot, he wouldn't have been charged or found guilty anyway. Alibis aren't "real things" that magically get you off if you produce one or doom you if you don't have one like TV would have you believe. In fact, a wise person probably wouldn't even provide an alibi to the police if he had one, because if you're being investigated for a crime you should never talk to the police (part 2). If they have enough evidence to charge you they will, despite any alibi. You should save any information you have that they don't for your lawyer to present where it makes most strategic sense.
posted by floam at 9:44 PM on November 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


Well, if you spend all your time at home surfing the internet and playing video games, you're probably not going to get into a situation where you're suspected of committing a crime.

Also, cell phone use will ping local towers, so if you receive a text or call (or send either), your location will be pinpointed by area.

While it's true that you can be located by your cellphone, the cell network doesn't keep an active log of where you are all the time.

But you can get cellphones that will. Android phones, which can run apps in the background can record your location continuously if you want.

If you're really worried, you could get a digital sound/video recorder and record yourself all the time. That will pretty much prove you didn't do it.
posted by delmoi at 10:09 PM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


What?? That's completely insane and scary. So if I want to commit a crime all I need to do is give my password to my brother and have him make an update or something while I'm out doing my deeds?

Or more obviously, just do an update from your cellphone. While you're doing it. Just don't make it "Just sitting at home, totally not murdering anyone!"
posted by delmoi at 10:11 PM on November 21, 2009


I recognize that my suggested situation was kind of contrived. Can I rephrase the question to:

What kind of evidence trail do I leave while I'm at home? And not things that would be evidence of paranoia or premeditation.
posted by meowzilla at 10:28 PM on November 21, 2009


There's always the people angle. My neighbours have a fair idea I'm home and using my computer because they can see me through the window (as can passersby), and at least some of them spend plenty of time wandering around outside. It's kind of surprising how often people stare in at me actually. In an apartment people next door or underneath may be able to hear you walking around. Someone may see your car at home, not evidence in itself but corroboration. I notice sometimes when my neighbours windows are opened or closed and can hear the gas hot water system running from a different neighbour, all of which indicates there was at least someone home. How much is noticed depends on how nosey your neighbours are I guess.

Also if you have any kind of camera based security system, either in your building or even in a nearby street (ATM camera maybe?), that's going to have some record of you passing by on your way in. My router tracks when I'm actively online and how much data is going through so it could be shown that there was internet activity at certain times. Again not necessarily me but corroboration of my story.

But I also agree that not having an alibi doesn't mean you're automatically in trouble. Beyond reasonable doubt means they have to actively prove you did it not that you have to prove you didn't. Lots of us spend time by ourselves with nothing to back it up, it's not a suspicious thing on it's own.
posted by shelleycat at 10:51 PM on November 21, 2009


What kind of evidence trail do I leave while I'm at home?

Depends on what you mean. Very little that couldn't be spoofed and faked and so would provide an alibi. Quite a lot that someone with total access to everything and a desire to spy on you could acquire.

For example: Water usage and patterns, power usage and patterns, telephone records, television viewing habits (assuming you have a cable or satellite box of some sort), ISP records with your IP address, and so on.

So, as I said, a huge amount that a brilliant computer hacking stalker could use to track you, virtually nothing that would be of actual use in "proving" you were home in a court of law.
posted by Justinian at 11:03 PM on November 21, 2009


"Yes, I was asleep. Alone."

There's something to be said about proving you were NOT wherever the scene of the crime may have been. Something as simple as tracing your route home (if driving / walking) can be confirmed via traffic cameras. Something like being lazy in your home might be confirmed via IP logs.

Remember - at least in the USA - it's innocent until proven guilty. Defense attorneys and TV shows sometimes get that confused.
posted by chrisinseoul at 3:17 AM on November 22, 2009


Seconding Chrisinseoul. Without knowing more details it is hard to give specifics but if someone is saying you were at X place at Y time, figure out a way to prove you were not, such as by having a lawyer (if applicable) cross-examine witnesses to determine whether you were in fact there or not.

Floam is right though--you've just opened another can of nuts by not posting this anonymously. While you may have an online alibi, them finding this post could make arguing your innocence a little trickier (although it could be argued that you were simply looking for evidence to prove your innocence). Another thing to consider....in the day and age of mobile internet devices, simply claiming you were online and posting something and therefore must have been at home doesn't exactly cut it. Anybody with an iPhone could do the same thing on the road.

Now, if you were playing an online multiplayer game with other people and that game required you to be at your home PC, it would be interesting if the other players testimony (like others in your guild/clan perhaps?) would hold up in court. "Yes officer, we were doing the Black Temple raid at that time and meowzilla was our off-tank."
posted by Elminster24 at 10:20 AM on November 22, 2009


>He didn't get off because he had an alibi, he got off because they didn't have sufficient evidence to successfully charge him.

Not quite accurate, though close. The prosecutor heard his story, believed him, and chose to drop the charges. Although this kind of electronic alibi could be contrived, the prosecutor ultimately concluded that it had not been contrived in this case. There is a lot that goes into the human judgment involved in making that decision.
posted by yclipse at 1:49 PM on November 22, 2009


Or more obviously, just do an update from your cellphone. While you're doing it. Just don't make it "Just sitting at home, totally not murdering anyone!”

From the third paragraph…

The district attorney subpoenaed Facebook to verify that the words had been typed from a computer at an apartment at 71 West 118th Street in Manhattan, the home of Mr. Bradford’s father. When that was confirmed, the charges were dropped.
posted by Garak at 6:46 PM on November 22, 2009


The district attorney subpoenaed Facebook to verify that the words had been typed from a computer at an apartment at 71 West 118th Street in Manhattan, the home of Mr. Bradford’s father. When that was confirmed, the charges were dropped.

Doesn't mean anything, even a vanilla iPhone supports VPNs.
posted by floam at 12:21 AM on November 23, 2009


« Older Rental of Fujitsu ScanSnap (or Similar) in Chicago...   |   I need a recommendation for an iPhone... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.