The use of emojis in online messages as evidence for intent, in otherwise ambiguous cases has risen dramatically in recent years. Emojis have now been the critical piece of proof in hundreds of legal cases.
Emojis are appearing more and more as evidence in courtrooms. A study by Santa Clara Law professor Eric Goldman showed that between 2004 and 2019, the number of reported cases involving emojis had jumped from 1 to over 100.
Emojis perform a much more significant role in society than simple communication. Their growing prevalence in court cases illustrates how they are now influencing legal outcomes where motive is disputed. For example, a man was handed a three month prison sentence in France for texting a pistol emoji to a former partner as the image was considered 'a real threat'. In the U.S. a man was convicted of murder, not accidental death as he had argued, based on a text he had sent with the 'cross for eyes' emoji with the victim's name. This is important because motive, or intent, is frequently what the outcome of a trial depends upon. Emojis are therefore increasingly the key piece of evidence that influences the outcome in high profile legal cases.
Criminal cases are very complex. While emojis might be considered as evidence in wider arguments about intent, they are one component of a much wider discussion. Goldman's research illuminates evolving modes of communication. However, 100 cases remains very insignificant within the wider context: in the US there were 81,553 criminal case filings in district courts alone.
[P1] Emojis are increasingly being used as evidence in criminal cases [P2] Courts are accepting emoji messages as proof of intent [P3] Legal outcomes are being determined by emojis
[Rejecting P3] Emojis are not the sole factor influencing legal outcomes. Criminal verdicts are determined by a multitude of factors of which emojis are one.
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