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I Know What You Did Last Summer: A User’s Guide for Internet Investigations

By Sean D. O’Brien and Quinn C. O’Brien

The United States saw 166 exonerations in 2016, easily breaking the previous record set in 2015.1 As exonerations provide greater insight into investigative errors and oversights, counsel’s mandate under Strickland v. Washington2 to conduct a “reasonable investigation” has evolved with investigative tools and methods. These tools include the internet; a reasonable investigation surely requires deployment of tools that are literally at counsel’s fingertips.3 

The authors work closely with the Midwest Innocence Project and other attorneys in the investigation of prisoner claims of actual innocence, and an organized search of online sources of information has opened valuable avenues of investigation, even in cold cases.4 One team asked for help finding a witness whose trail had gone cold more than a year earlier; it took only a few minutes to find a photograph the witness had uploaded to MySpace.com two hours earlier, and the photograph’s digital file included GPS data pla

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