Appellate court to take up social media issue in rape case involving UT football players

A.J. Johnson, 23 (left) and Michael Williams, 21, are both charged with aggravated rape.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed to hear appeals from both sides regarding the use of social media as evidence in the rape cases of former University of Tennessee football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams.

Both the defense and the prosecution appealed Judge Bob McGee’s November ruling that the victim and witnesses could not be subpoenaed for their social media communication, but the social media providers could be subpoenaed.

McGee noted, however, that this was an issue where the law had not caught up with technology and left open the prospect for another court to step in. The appeals court on Friday found that this case does warrant review.

Previous story: State: Social media subpoenas in former Vol’s delayed rape trial could have widespread impact

“An interlocutory review of the trial court’s order, in total, will prevent needless irreparable harm and prevent protracted litigation concerning the accessibility and discoverability of digital information from the service providers and customer witnesses,” read the court order.

Previous story: Judge rules on social media subpoenas in Vols rape trial

The case began the morning of November 16, 2014. A 19-year-old UT student reported being forcibly raped by Johnson and Williams while at a party at the Woodlands Apartment Complex in South Knoxville. Since the report was made, Johnson and Williams have been in the courtroom numerous times as their trials continue to be delayed. They say they are not guilty of the charges.

The defense has been trying to get access to social media messages to and from some witnesses in the case. Prosecutors say if the subpoenas remain in effect, they will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on rape reporting and prosecutions in Knox County, home to one of the largest college campuses in the region.

Web Extra: Read the court order [PDF]

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