I've noticed that people on YouTube and even on TV would sometimes say things like "I used to take lots of coke a few years ago" or "I used to smoke weed daily until this and that" or "Yea, I smoke weed every once in a while," or "I used to pirate games a lot when I was a bit younger" or "I used pirated Windows and Photoshop until I got a job," etc., etc..

Basically they are confessing to a crime, on public record, couldn't anyone come after them? They've already confessed - technically all that would have to be done is a trial.

In these cases: possession of coke, weed, pirating games and software. In some cases - admittance that they will do it again soon - smoke weed ("I smoke it once in a while").

I just keep wondering every time I hear or read it... I thought finally it's time to ask people who know what they're talking about and who may be able to satisfy my curiosity and help me understand.

Hope the tags are right.

  • 1
    Other answers probably do point this out, but if not: the point of the law is not to enforce everything. Not every activity must be either illegal or not. It matters when it causes a problem to others, or to society. Or the danger it may cause. The spirit of the law is to protect, not to prevent.
    – Alec Teal
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 23:32
  • As an example (absurdly on the 'not a danger' side), it is illegal to talk in the classroom, but Alice and Bob are there at some point where the building is open and there's no one else in the room. So they talk! This is not a crime in a world where not talking in the classroom is enshrined in law.
    – Alec Teal
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 23:34
  • 1
    @AlecTeal That actually seems more like an example of "if they don't see it, you won't get punished," which in this case is a pretty bad metaphor. Because while they don't see it, you tell them that you did it. If you told your teachers that you talked in the classroom when you were supposed to be quiet - at least where I come from - you would get punished.
    – Jack
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 6:42
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    @AlecTeal: Illegal? Since when was this kind of thing governed by law as opposed to by the school? Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 6:43
  • While the spirit of the law is supposed to be to protect, it more often than not is about control. I wrote an extension to this, but I rest my case. It'd drive this way offtopic.
    – Jack
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 6:44

4 Answers 4


Unless the Youtube Video shows them committing a crime, then no, they couldn't be arrested and tried for a crime. Them saying it, not under oath, is just hearsay that has no evidentiary value unless there is already other evidence they have committed a crime. In that case, its an admission. But there must be other, either circumstantial, or actual physical evidence of a crime. Past intoxication is not a crime, either. Possession of drugs, if caught with them is. But saying you got high is not.

People have walked into police stations and confessed to murders. But with no evidence, no body, no name of a missing person, they can't even be held after the holding period for investigatory purposes expires.

If the video shows them committing assault, or breaking and entering (there actually are idiots who post this stuff), the video is actual evidence of a crime and it is often used against them.

The statements can be used to begin an investigation, but people don't usually confess to anything worth pursuing even an investigation. The fact that someone says they used to do something criminal is not enough. For all you ( meaning anyone ) knows, the statute of limitations has expired because they "pirated games" 10 years ago. Your comment is right on.

  • 2
    Funny about someone posting something like that. Not surprised though. Humans. As for confession not really being a confession, I suppose that makes sense in a bureaucratic society - even if you confess to a crime - if there is no evidence, there is no crime. With that logic, you could kill 100 people, walk in, nobody would care unless you'd have the bodies. Basically if someone comes after any of them they could say "I was just talking" for either pirating or using drugs or EVEN killing someone. Good to know, thank you for the explanation!
    – Jack
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 14:53
  • 13
    Exactly! There are instances of crazy people confessing to murders they never even committed. They take the facts in the newspaper, walk into the police and say they did it. The police usually keep a few facts private just for these cases, so when somebody does that there will inevitably be a fact of the case they can't attest to and then they know they're just lying… Or if not they will investigate just enough to figure out it wasn't them.
    – gracey209
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 14:57
  • 3
    Oh yea, I heard about such cases, of crazy people reading something in the newspaper and wanting attention... Either way - awesome info to have! Now I see why everyone is talking freely of it all...
    – Jack
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 15:10
  • 6
    No, it is not hearsay, any more than any other confession. (Formally, hearsay is an out-of-court statement by a person not a party to the lawsuit ... The defendant in a criminal proceeding is definitely a party to the lawsuit). A confession alone, with no other evidence that a crime was committed, does not prove a crime; that's the "corpus delicti" (body of the wrong) rule.
    – PJB
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 12:39
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    @PeteBecker rule 801 defines hearsay as an out of court statement offered to proof the truth of the matter asserted. Section d.2) excludes statement of the party opponent introduced by the party opponent.
    – Viktor
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 15:52

Some of the things you mentioned above, are civil, not criminal matters, such as pirating software.

Some of the other things are criminal matters. I will discuss this question in the context of the United States and criminal law.

When you are accused of a crime, the prosecutor must specify when and where the crime was committed. This is a due process right. It is the duty of the prosecutor to establish that the court has jurisdiction to hear the case, in order to do that, he or she must establish where the crime occurred. If after the prosecutor has presented all his or her evidence and rests his case there is no evidence of jurisdiction you can make a motion to dismiss the case because the court has no jurisdiction. Additionally, the prosecutor has not presented a time. You have the right to present opposing evidence, but how can you possibly do that for every single moment of time you were alive? Now the time doesn't have to be exact, but there should be some period of time mentioned that is reasonable for the facts.

The reason for this time and date requirement is because you have the right to not be put in jeopardy twice. If the prosecution does not specify when and where the crime occurred, there is no way to know for what act jeopardy attached.

Since the confessions did not include these elements, charges cannot be sought: they would be instantly dismissed.

Lastly, assume the confession was something like I possessed this amount of weed. That may be probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant to investigate for evidence of the crime.

If evidence is found in conjunction with the confession, it could result in a conviction.

TLDR; A confession itself probably will not result in a conviction.

  • 8
    This answer is more correct than the hearsay one. These statements in a YouTube video aren't "confessions" without the additional details, like time and place, to identify a specific crime. An important detail to add is the reason these details are needed: without them, the Double Jeapordy rule cannot be guaranteed. Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 15:05
  • @DanHenderson thank you. Very good comment. I should probably have included the Double Jeopardy Rule in the answer. I'll update it now.
    – Viktor
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 15:28
  • 2
    +1, but I would note that copyright infringement is, in fact, a criminal offense, at least in the U.S. Granted, the standard for criminal infringement prosecution is much higher than for a civil infringement case.
    – reirab
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 16:13
  • @reirab good point, but I believe the statute most likely does not affect those who do not distribute the pirated content themselves, which is why I called it a civil matter; section a.1) seems to not cover all conduct imaginable especially as it requires willful infringement.
    – Viktor
    Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 9:20

Prosecutorial discretion: cops choose who to arrest and prosecutors decide which crimes to charge and pursue. If these confessed crimes you speak of are not being pursued, it's because the cops and attorneys conclude that they can't make the case through evidence.

Saying you did something is not the same as doing it. Let's assume that the cops arrest one of these people for saying they did a crime or are planning on doing a crime. In order to be successful, prosecutors need to prove their accusation beyond a reasonable doubt. A person's confession in print or on the Internet or on TV is not enough to get a conviction, because they can just say they were lying. So forget the so-called confession and now assume the cops need to gather evidence. It starts to cost a bunch of time and money trying to prove that someone smoked a joint.

Take a look at the Michael Phelps marijuana case. He was photographed smoking a bong and he issued an apology. But police say there is no proof of marijuana. They would need to find people to testify that there was weed in the bong. And even then the proof required at trial is beyond a reasonable doubt.

Put bluntly (tee hee) people need to be caught in the act for these crimes to be worth prosecuting.

Now, if someone is saying they are a drug trafficker it might be a different story.

  • Far as I'm concerned (now), they can say they're drug trafficker all they want, or ex drug-trafficker. As long as there's no evidence. That also opens up doors for me to just say anything, I remember someone telling me (when I was younger) to not say something like that even as a joke under some circumstances.
    – Jack
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 14:56
  • 3
    @Jack the point about me example re: being a drug trafficker is that the payoff for prosecution is high enough to be worth the time. If a person credibly says they smoked a joint, the cops don't get much from proving that. If a person credibly says they traffic drugs, the cops get a payoff from proving it. Again, equal credibility but prosecutorial discretion treats the crimes differently.
    – jqning
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 15:00
  • But they can still work on trying to prove it, if they don't have evidence - you're not a drug trafficker. Even if you plead guilty under oath and all, as I understand. Unless they have witnesses or documents proving it - you've done nothing and you'll go free. Even if you actually are a drug trafficker.
    – Jack
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 15:05
  • 2
    Right. Getting high is one thing...if you want to talk about it there is not much chance of something coming of it. But more serious things, joking or not, I'd avoid.
    – gracey209
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 15:16
  • 2
    @Jack and about the piracy thing - that's mostly a civil issue so it's the software owner who sues pirates in civil court. These plaintiffs don't have the benefit of search warrants, they need to rely on discovery. If they were to win a case and get a few thousand dollar award they need to collect from people who can't pay. It's just not worth the lawyer fees in most cases.
    – jqning
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 15:31

Some years ago, when I knew some "shady" people, one of whom told me that they were doing something illegal, I spoke with a lawyer about the matter. And the lawyer's advice was something like the following:

"You do not know that anyone is doing anything illegal. That is, your level of "knowledge" would not stand up in a court of law. All you know is that person A said person B was doing X, and that X might be illegal, depending on how it was done.

"What is true that you possess information that an investigator might find useful; that it is B who is doing X, and that A has first hand knowledge of the matter, not second or third hand, like yours."

It's unlikely that a police officer will see a "confession" on social media, and decide to pursue it, because it is "hearsay." What IS true is that if someone were investigating a matter for OTHER reasons, and found a reference to this matter online, that person could easily use the clues provided online for the remainder of the investigation.

  • That's something that I would say... Hah. Still, I doubt someone would launch an investigation to tie you (somehow) about smoking a joint, doing acid or snorting coke at some point in your life. Or pirating software. Although I guess they could tie you up to some let's-catch-this-dealer case, but online? Unless it's Facebook connections, I don't see a way. As for piracy - where'd you get it? But again, I don't see it happening unless direct connection is provided. And warez sites seem to be raided without connections, while drugs... I am yet to hear about someone going after a comment on TV.
    – Jack
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 6:51
  • In the UK, a criminal who was in criminal court posted on Facebook "I think I've got away with it". Someone saw it, showed it to the judge, and the judge took it as a confession.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 22:06
  • 3
    He must've had a very bad lawyer, "I think I've got away with it" could've meant many things. It could've meant he got away with eating a burger while on a diet. It is irrelevant to the case if the lawyer is good enough.
    – Jack
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 0:30
  • UK is a lot different from US, because it is a lot more plaintiff/prosecution friendly. In the US, people are "innocent until proven guilty, "even in a civil case (except in the US south). In England, there is (de facto) some presumption of guilt, even if people are technically innocent until proven guilty.
    – Libra
    Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 17:05

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