Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Or Just ONE….Guilty.
Recently, a British Newspaper published pictures of Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps smoking a marijuana bong. The Olympian has since apologized and called his behavior “inappropriate.” The majority of Americans have accepted his apology, and chalked it up as a non-issue. However, Richmond County (South Carolina) Sheriff Leon Lott is not as understanding. Lott has indicated that he will charge the Olympian if he determines Phelps smoked marijuana in Richmond County.
“This case is no different than any other case,” Lott said Monday. “This one might be a lot easier since we have photographs of someone using drugs and a partial confession. It’s a relatively easy case once we can determine where the crime occurred.”
In today’s world, MySpace, Facebook, and other personal websites on the Internet are accessible every minute of every day for all to see. A candid camera phone photo posted to a personal website might seem innocent, but you can be found guilty. Now Sheriff Lott may find it a difficult task to actually substantiate a case against Michael Phelps considering he is unaware of the location, has not tested any substance, does not have any positive drug screen, or even whether the Olympian inhaled.
However, it is not so uncommon for individuals to be found in violation of probation conditions based upon similar candid photos. It is unlikely anyone would post pictures of any illegal activities, however, pictures holding a beer, or in a bar, or even appearing intoxicated, may provide sufficient cause for a zealous probation officer or judge to file a show cause for violation of probation. In many cases, an original sentence may allow for a defendant to prove himself or herself, but you can be assured that a sentence for a probation violation will not be so considerate.
Had Phelps “inappropriate” behavior occurred in Michigan, he could be subject to a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both. In addition, he could be subject to a lesser offense, Use of Marijuana, which is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment not more than 90 days or a fine not more than $100.00, or both.
by attorney Michael J. Boyle, Barone Defense Firm