Court told to reassess decision allowing defendant in OB attempted-murder case to subpoena Facebook


The California Supreme Court ruled Aug. 13 that a San Diego County court must re-examine its decision to allow a criminal defendant in an Ocean Beach case to subpoena Facebook to obtain private social media posts and messages he claimed would help him in his defense.

The state Supreme Court ruling laid out a series of factors for the trial court to consider when weighing whether to allow the defendant to gain access to his alleged victim’s restricted posts and private messages. The ruling stems from the case of Lance Touchstone, a Northern California man charged with attempted murder on allegations of shooting his sister’s boyfriend in Ocean Beach in 2016.

Touchstone sought to obtain information from the shooting victim’s Facebook posts that the defendant contended would show his accuser was a violent person, bolstering a self-defense claim. A San Diego County Superior Court judge ruled in Touchstone’s favor and ordered Facebook to release the information, leading to subsequent appeals.

An opinion authored by state Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye stated that the trial court should consider seven factors when deciding whether good cause has been shown to grant the subpoena. These “Alhambra factors” include whether the defendant has shown a “plausible justification” for acquiring the information and whether acquiring the material violates a third party’s confidentiality or privacy rights.

Touchstone’s attempted-murder trial in San Diego remains pending for a date to be determined.


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