The Delaware Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that an undercover detective’s two-year monitoring of a suspect using a fake Facebook profile did not violate Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches and seizures.
A three-member panel of the high court ruled that Terrance E. Everett did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when he shared an incriminating photo with his “friends” on the social-networking site, including Detective Bradley Landis, who had been tracking Everett’s posts under an account with a false name with profile pictures he had pulled from the internet.
“Everett made the photo accessible to his ‘friends’ and, by doing so, he assumed the risk that one of them might be a government officer or share his information with law enforcement,” Justice Karen L. Valihura wrote in a 23-page opinion.
She was joined in the ruling by Justices James T. Vaughn Jr. and Gary F. Traynor.
A Superior Court judge sentenced Everett last year to 15 years in prison on weapons charges, based on evidence gathered from his Facebook page. He was arrested in 2015 after accepting Landis’ friend request about two years earlier.
Police had obtained a warrant to search Everett’s home after Landis noticed a photo Everett posted showing a nightstand with a gun, cash and other objects. Although Everett was not in the photo, the caption read: “Just getting in for the night, how I sleep every night.”
Everett, whose previous felony convictions barred him from possessing a firearm, challenged the conviction on the grounds that Landis had not disclosed his covert monitoring of Everett’s Facebook page in an application for a warrant, which led police to discover a 9-mm Smith & Wesson handgun and ammunition.
Everett argued that Landis’ tracking amounted to an unlawful search and that all evidence obtained through the warrant should have been suppressed.
However, Valihura said the Fourth Amendment does not guard against the risk that information shared with friends on social media may end up in the hands of police.
“To be clear, there are prohibitions against wiretapping conversations as they are happening absent a court order,” she wrote.
“We only hold that, as between Everett and his ‘false friend,’ the undercover Detective Landis, Everett assumed the risk that whoever was behind that account was a law enforcement officer, and, thus, there was no reasonable expectation of privacy that shields the incriminating information he shared.”
The Delaware Department of Justice, which argued the case on appeal, declined to comment on the ruling, and an attorney for Everett could not immediately be reached Wednesday afternoon.
The case was captioned Everett v. State.