Digital Evidence in Criminal Cases
Explosive advances in technology over the last two decades have drastically changed the criminal justice system. Law enforcement can now gather vast amounts of credible, valuable digital evidence, from both the suspect and a victim. Prosecutors use this evidence and develop strategies aimed at proving guilt. Details that may not be otherwise available or practical can now be presented to a jury, often making the prosecution’s job easier.
However, all evidence is still subject to scrutiny. Your civil rights and the foundational elements of the criminal process don’t change because the information comes in electronic form. There are layers of complexity that can make the difference between a conviction and acquittal, so the best strategy for protecting your rights is retaining a criminal defense lawyer.
Don’t let a prosecutor or police officer pressure you into accepting your fate because they tell you how compelling the digital evidence is. In the Pittsburgh area, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney with Worgul, Sarna & Ness Criminal Defense Attorneys.
Digital Evidence in Criminal Cases
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) defines digital evidence as any information or data stored in or transmitted by electronic means. Also referred to as “computer forensics,” digital information is theoretically the same as any other evidence that may be introduced in court.
Some special considerations include:
- Law enforcement is subject to the same regulations and limitations when conducting investigations, including constitutional protections
- Prosecutors must comply with the rules of evidence when pursuing charges against you; and,
- Though these players may employ computer forensics tactics to obtain a conviction, digital evidence is just as important for exculpatory reasons – i.e., proving your innocence.
Digital Data is Unique
There are key differences between digital and physical evidence. However, digital information covers a broader range of data, which can be very private and sensitive. It can place you in a certain spot at a point in time, potentially tying you to a crime. Plus, unlike physical evidence, it requires different training for law enforcement to access. For purposes of authentication and admissibility, digital evidence also presents challenges for prosecutors who must usually rely on expert testimony.
How It’s Used in Criminal Cases
Electronic information can be introduced as evidence in any criminal case, but it’s especially useful in computer and white-collar crimes. The days are long gone that you could successfully erase every trace of fraud, embezzlement, or other financial offenses. Officials also make use of digital data in connection with:
- Murder charges
- Kidnapping crimes
- Child pornography and sexual assault
- Human trafficking
- Robbery, burglary, and other theft crimes
Sources of Evidence in Computer Crimes
When you think about your everyday activities and how digital devices connect you to the world, you can see the massive expanse of electronic evidence. The most obvious are the hard drives and storage for your computer, laptop, tablet, and mobile phone. Still, there are numerous other sources to which law enforcement may gain access through a search warrant, including:
- Web browsing history
- Car navigation systems and portable GPS
- Usage of credit and debit cards
- Tollbooth vehicle records
- Social media activities and posts
- Phone call, email, texting, and other messaging activities
- Download history of music, ebooks, e-zines, video, and other content.
The “Internet of Things”
Plus, you may be shocked to know how officials can use data transmitted and stored through devices that qualify as IoT. The term describes any number of internet-connected devices that can provide a wealth of information in a criminal case. For instance, the police may tie you to a crime through:
- Your residential security system and smart home features
- A fitness tracker and other wearables
- Usage of Uber/Lyft and ridesharing services
- A victim’s pacemaker, for purposes of establishing time of death; and
- An infinite number of mobile apps you use regularly.
Trust a Criminal Defense Lawyer to Handle Complex Evidence
Using digital evidence in criminal cases is a significant factor, but it can also be used by the defense to present innocence and proper context. In addition, it’s no substitute for the skills, knowledge, and experience a qualified legal professional can bring to your case. If you’ve been arrested in Pittsburgh and electronic information will serve as key evidence in your case, Worgul, contact Sarna & Ness Criminal Defense Attorneys right away.