Love them or hate them, it looks like “emojis” are here to stay. As of this writing, more than 3,000 emojis have been officially recognized, standardized, and named by the Unicode Consortium (a group that cares very deeply about emojis, among other things) and they have been adopted for widespread use on cell phones, tablets, email clients, and social media platforms.
Emojis now exist as a way to succinctly express everything from the ordinary and familiar ( smiling face; thumbs-up) to the surprisingly specific ( mountain cableway; moon viewing ceremony) to the routinely misunderstood ( not “angry” but rather “persevering face;” not “shooting star” but rather “dizzy”), to the criminally repurposed ( snowflake to mean cocaine; rocket to mean high drug potency).
The explosive growth of this alternative form of communication is raising some interesting questions for criminal attorneys and the court system as a whole. Should emojis be considered “statements,” on equal footing with written or spoken words? If they’re not statements, then what are they? Who decides what is meant by the use of a particular emoji? Do they have to be published to the jury and included in the record as images, or can they be summarized and described by words? What should practitioners do to make sure that emojis are accurately reflected in transcripts, court orders, and appellate opinions, since many court systems are text-based and do not allow for the inclusion of images?
Let’s about it.