Text messages are a routine way of communication nowadays. Statistics show that 90% of the United States population, amounting to 290 million people, send texts every day.
With the ease and convenience of sending text messages, the number sent everyday continues to increase.
Many people assume that their text messages are private and that they can reveal any type of information that they want in a text. They type things and send photographs with the expectation they will be private. However, this is not necessarily the case.
Police authorities can obtain search warrants to obtain messages. And in court cases, litigants or a judge can subpoena text messages for relevant matters in a case. These are often very important to the outcome of both criminal and civil cases.
Text messages can include many different kinds of damaging information that can hurt a person, from “sexting” photographs to admissions of guilt in a criminal matter. Given that text messages are so revealing, they can be used to make or break a case at trial.
When text messages are admitted as evidence in a case, they can reveal many different types of wrongdoing or even supply a supporting alibi to someone facing criminal charges. They can also be used to show motive, intent, and even a conspiracy between multiple defendants.
In family law matters, an attorney can subpoena text messages in a contested divorce. They can be used to support allegations of marital indiscretion or issues related to visitation or child custody. Both parties to the divorce may want to use texts to support their case.
In a personal injury case, texts can be used to show distracted driving in a fatal car accident lawsuit. Because most cell phone records itemize all calls and texts made during a given month, the bill itself is great evidence even if the actual text messages themselves cannot be obtained
And in sex assault cases, they can show communications that a person consented or refused consent to an sexual act. These messages can be used in both civil and criminal proceedings.
Text messages have been used in ethics violations cases against politicians and other public figures. Texts can also be extremely damaging in criminal cases. A criminal conviction can be won or lost based largely on cell phone communications.
Beyond the actual courtroom, text messages can also do great harm in Title IX investigations conducted by a college or university, as well as to a person’s public reputation when those text messages become public. For example, celebrity “sexting” scandals are newsworthy headlines and celebrities can destroy their once stellar reputations.
When you are preparing for a civil or criminal trial, you should know how to subpoena text messages that may be relevant to your case. In the meantime, we want to provide you with some high-profile examples of text-messaging cases and incidents in recent years to demonstrate just how damaging—and thus how valuable—text messages can be in a lawsuit.
Text Messages in the Aaron Hernandez Criminal Case
Text messages have played a significant role in a number of criminal cases. In each of these cases, the prosecution sought to have the text messages included as evidence to support the charges against the defendant. When obtained, they are very damaging.
In the criminal case of former NFL player Aaron Hernandez, phone calls and text messages played a significant role in the case. To be sure, an article in Sports Illustrated described the text messages as “ambiguous,” but intimated that, when read together and in conjunction with Hernandez’s phone call record, the text messages were incriminating. The jury in the Hernandez murder trial had to determine just how convincing the text messages were of Hernandez’s guilt. Ultimately, Hernandez was found guilty of first-degree murder.
The first-degree murder conviction concerned the murder of Odin Lloyd in June 2013. Hernandez, the New England Patriot tight end, placed calls to others accused of assisting in the murder of Lloyd, and he made statements that suggested in was in charge of the killing. He sent text messages that looked like orders to others, such as “Hurry up” and “U grab.”
In response to one of the text messages Hernandez sent, one of the other people replied “Yes sir.” In total, the prosecution referred to 17 different texts messages surrounding the time of the Lloyd murder.
While the text messages did not explicitly state that Hernandez had plans to murder Lloyd and did not specifically order anyone to participate in a murder attempt, the prosecution argued that the text messages could be read in context and suggested Hernandez’s guilt. Ultimately, the jury agreed, and Hernandez was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment and later died while incarcerated.
Michelle Carter and the Texting Suicide Case
The criminal case against Michelle Carter drew national attention after the 23-year-old woman sent text messages to her boyfriend, convincing him to commit suicide. Her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, tragically took his own life in 2014 when he was 18 years old. He committed suicide by inhaling carbon monoxide in his truck.
At the time of the suicide and the text messages, Carter was 17 years old, according to a report from NBC News.
Carter ultimately was sentenced to 15 months of imprisonment and five years of probation in 2017 after being convicted of manslaughter. The text messages played a major role in Carter’s conviction. Carter opted to have a bench trial, which meant a judge instead of a jury decided whether or not to convict her.
Carter repeatedly sent texts to Roy, which were used as evidence in the case against her. When Roy told her he had fallen asleep, she replied and said, “Its okay, Why Haven’t you done it yet tho?” He replied and told her he was “too messed up to,” and she replied: “You can’t think about it You just have to do it? You said you were gonna do it like I don’t get why you aren’t.” The text messaged continued over the course of a full day in which Carter continually texted Roy and asked if he was going to commit suicide and encouraged him to “do it now.”
See transcript of select texts below.
Text Messages in the Amber Guyger Homicide Case
In another criminal case, text messages played a vital role. The murder of Botham Jean drew national attention when Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger was charged with the murder.
From the start, the case raised serious concerns about racism and police violence—Guyger was a white law enforcement official and Jean was an unarmed black man. At the time of the murder, Guyger was off duty. She went into the Dallas apartment of Botham Jean and shot him to death.
Immediately after the murder, Guyger told responders that she thought it was her own apartment and believed that Jean was a burglar in her apartment.
An investigation later revealed that Guyger knew Jean and that they had previously dated. Moreover, text messages revealed that, immediately after shooting Jean and while he lay dying, Guyger sent “racy text messages” to another man, Guyger’s patrol partner, according to a CBS News report.
According to Jean’s family’s lawyer, “at the time that Botham was struggling to take his very last breath, we saw a police officer who was more concerned about herself and was sending off text messages.” Guyger ultimately was convicted of murder and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Case of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick the Perjury Texts
In 2008, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was the subject of a serious text messaging scandal that revealed how the former mayor fired staff members in violation of a whistleblower law, and that he perjured himself in a 2003 civil lawsuit in which those former employers filed charges against Kilpatrick.
That trial ended in 2007, and it ultimately resulted in the plaintiffs receiving $6.5 million in damages.
Kilpatrick initially alleged that racial discrimination had played a role in the verdict, but shortly thereafter he paid $8.4 million to cover up evidence that he had perjured himself during the trial, according to Courthouse News Service. That evidence involved thousands of text messages Kilpatrick had exchanged with Christine Beatty, his then-chief of staff.
According to the news, “Kilpatrick and Beatty exchanged thousands of text messages during their affair, some suggesting improper reasons for firing the deputy police chief of internal affairs, who led the investigation of whistleblower complaints against Kilpatrick.”
Needless to say, the text messages were extremely damaging to Kilpatrick’s reputation, but they also served as significant evidence in subsequent criminal trials. Beatty faced charges for perjury and obstruction of justice, and Kilpatrick faced a total of eight felony charges including perjury, obstruction of justice, and misconduct in office. The former mayor ultimately pled guilty to two felony charges and was sentenced to four months in jail in addition to being required to make a restitution payment of $1 million.
The text messages played a key role in the criminal charges against Kilpatrick. While the Circuit Court judge who released the messages in October 2008 required that some of them be redacted, the key bit of information was that they could lawfully be released and could be used in the charges against Kilpatrick and Beatty. Both were convicted and imprisoned. See transcript of select text messages below.
Sexting and the Anthony Weiner Case
In another criminal case involving a politician and text messaging, former congressman Anthony Weiner was sent to prison after pleading guilty to “sexting with a 15-year-old girl,” according to an article in USA Today.
In May 2017, Weiner, 54, pleaded guilty to “a charge of transferring obscene material to a minor.” That was not the first time Weiner had exchanged explicit text messages.
In 2013, Weiner was running for New York City mayor. At the time, news broke that he “was sending explicit photos to a 22-year-old woman under the pseudonym Carlos Danger.” While that scandal affected his political life, it did not result in charges.
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However, Weiner willingly entered into text and other electronic communications with the 15-year-old girl at the center of his guilty plea in 2016. She first contacted Weiner over Twitter and made clear that she was a minor, and she then continued contacting him through other electronic platforms like Facebook messenger, Skype, and Snapchat.
The girl informed Weiner that she was 15 years old, and despite having knowledge that she was underage, “Weiner asked her to show him her naked body, which she did.” Weiner then also sent pornography to the girl.
The sexting scandal and prison sentence also ultimately affected the reputation of Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, who served as an aide to Hillary Clinton. The Weiner investigation was one of the subjects of the FBI emails released less than two weeks prior to the 2016 presidential election.
Brett Favre and Sexting
Text messages, and sexting in particular, have also become public and have damaged the reputations of a number of celebrities without impacting a criminal case or criminal charges like the cases we discussed above.
As an article in NPR recalls, the NFL fined Brett Favre, then a quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, “$50,000 for failing to cooperate with an investigation into allegations that Favre texted lewd messages and photos of himself to a New York Jets employee.” That incident was not the only sexting allegation against Brett Favre.
Two massage therapists for the New York Jets filed a civil lawsuit against Favre for sexual harassment, alleging that he also sent lewd texts to them. Photo evidence from the explicit photos Favre “sexted” soon came to light and spread across the news media.
Tiger Woods’ Affair Exposed through Text Messages
Of course, Brett Favre is not the only professional athlete who has been embroiled in a sexting scandal. A series of text messages between the golfer Tiger Woods and a 24-year-old mistress Jaimee Grubbs entered into the public sphere.
Some of the texts were sexually explicit, and others simply made clear that Woods had been engaged in an extramarital affair with Grubbs, according to an article in the New York Post.
Soon after those texts were made public, a number of other women came forward with “sexts” and explicit texts with Woods. Indeed, other text messages revealed that Woods had engaged in a number of other extramarital affairs, according to a report in the Daily News.
Many of those texts, even if they were not sexually explicit, made clear that Woods had engaged in a sexual relationship outside his marriage. While the texts did not play a role in any sort of lawsuit, they did result in significant damage to the public reputation of Tiger Woods.
Woods is not the only professional athlete caught cheating as a result of text messages and to face significant harm to his public image. For example, an article in the Daily Mail reported that former major league baseball player Alex Rodriguez had cheated on his wife Jennifer Lopez “by sexting a British Playboy model and begging for threesomes.” He has denied this claim.
Another example of a celebrity athlete being caught cheating through text messages is San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker. According to a report in the Daily News, Parker’s wife Eva Longoria ended their marriage “after discovering he had been exchanging a barrage of personal text messages with a female friend.” The female friend was the wife of a teammate.
“Deflate Gate” and the Role of Text Messages Involving Tom Brady
Speaking of professional sports, text messages have also played a role in exposing the possibility of cheating in the NFL. Yet the “Deflategate” text messages suggest a different kind of cheating.
Instead of cheating on a marital partner, a series of texts exchanged between staffers of the NFL’s New England Patriots suggested that the team was cheating in order to win games.
According to an article in Sports Illustrated, “New England Patriots personnel likely manipulated the air pressure of the footballs used in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts” in order to win the game.
The scandal, referring to the deflation of footballs used in the game, quickly became known as “Deflategate.” Information about the scandal and the team’s cheating came to light through text messages.
Jim McNally, a Patriots locker room attendant, and John Jastremski, a Patriots equipment assistant, exchanged multiple text messages with one another about “Deflategate” and its aims. According to the article, McNally and Jastremski discussed via text how they “participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee.” This made it easier for Tom Brady to grip the ball when passing.
In one of the texts, McNally specifically referred to himself as “the deflator.”
The text messages were cited as key evidence in an investigation into the allegations against the Patriots. The report that came out of the allegation ultimately stated that it was likely Tom Brady, the quarterback of the Patriots at the time, “was at least generally aware of…the release of air from Patriots game balls.”
Brady claimed he destroyed his cell phone that was allegedly part of the scandal. As a result, no text messages could be retrieved. He was suspended for four games by the NFL.
See transcript of select text messages below.
Sexist and Homophobic Texting Forces Puerto Rico Governor to Resign
Even when text messages do not suggest unlawful behavior, they can still be so damaging to a public figure’s image that they can have serious consequences.
To be sure, text messages conveying a person’s discriminatory thoughts can be extremely damaging to that person’s career, even if that person has a different type of public persona. A clear example is the recent resignation of Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló in July 2019.
According to an article in NPR, the governor announced that he planned to resign “amid a scandal over sexist, homophobic, and otherwise offensive text messages he and his inner circle exchanged.” Those text messages were leaked to the public, and resulted in “mass demonstrations and widespread calls for his departure.”
Indeed, for almost two weeks, thousands of people took to the streets of San Juan to protest, even shutting down an 11-lane highway in the capital. In total, almost 900 pages of “profane messages” were leaked, and those messages showed the governor and aides “insulting women, deriding gays, and making fun of [Hurricane] Maria victims.”
The scandal became so newsworthy that it garnered the name “Rickyleaks” and the Twitter hashtag #RickyRenuncia (meaning “Ricky Resign”).
The leaked text messages showed the governor and his aides taking aim at public figures, as well as ordinary Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria.
For example, the governor exchanged text messages about former New York City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, “using the Spanish word for ‘whore,’” according to a CNN News article. The texts also included homophobic comments about the Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, and offensive remarks about San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.
Role of Text Messages in the Trump Impeachment
Text messages even played a more recent role in the impeachment of Donald Trump. According to a report in BBC News, Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, “turned over a trove of text messages and other communications” to Congress in October 2019.
According to the report, those texts “documented the Trump administration’s efforts to get the Ukrainian government to investigate a Ukrainian company with ties to Joe Biden’s son,” as well as “conspiracy theories around Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential election.”
The text messages largely concerned the question of whether there was a “quid pro quo” in Trump’s dealings with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and specifically whether Trump required Ukraine to conduct an investigation in order for Ukraine to receive U.S. military aid. At the time of the text messages, U.S. military aid to Ukraine had been put on hold.
While the text messages did not make explicitly clear that members of the Trump administration were seeking a quid pro quo or that Trump was himself, the text messages implied as much.
For example, Kurt Volker sent a text to Bill Taylor, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, that said: “Heard from White House—assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate/”get to the bottom of what happened” in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck!” The president was impeached partly based on those communications
Contact an Experienced Injury Attorney
Text messages can play a major role in many different types of injury and tort claims, as well as in criminal cases. Depending upon the specific facts of the case, it may be necessary to subpoena text messages in order to have them entered as evidence at a trial.
When text messages are used in a trial, they can be extremely damaging. Even in situations where text messages do not play a role in a civil or criminal trial, they can play a major role in the “court of public opinion.” In other words, when incriminating or harmful text messages become public, they can cause serious damage to a celebrity or other public figure.
If you have questions about filing a claim and subpoenaing text messages for your case, one of the Michigan injury lawyers at our firm can assist you. One of our aggressive trial attorneys can speak with you today about options for using text messages in your lawsuit. Contact the Buckfire Law Firm to speak with an advocate about your case today.