Whether you’re technically inclined or not, there’s no denying that digital innovations are becoming a staple in our daily lives. We may not be living in the high-tech future many movies and TV shows used to depict, but we’ve come a very long way when it comes to digital prowess.
The world is adapting to technology in countless ways; photo and video capabilities in your back pocket, 24/7 monitoring via CCTV, digital communications, and so much more. Considering the frequency of use, it’s easy to see why and how these multimedia files are winding up in evidence files for use in court. Digital evidence is bigger than ever, and we don’t foresee it going away any time soon.
In Part 1, we discussed three of the most common forms of digital evidence. Today, we’ll hop into the last big four in the hopes that the term “digital evidence” starts to take on a new meaning.
Making Crime Scene Investigation Paperless
Digital evidence management affects everyone within the court system. There’s a misconception that only law enforcement deals with evidence, but that’s simply not the case. That being said, we can’t deny that officers and investigators typically play a large role in collecting evidence. While our first installment of this series discussed the more public-facing digital files, Part 2 is more crime scene focused. The formats we’ll discuss are closely associated with those responding to emergency calls, often used for in-depth detective work as well as telling the story of what happened.
- Bodycam Footage: When we mention digital evidence management to those unfamiliar with it, the typical default question is “Oh, so like bodycam videos?” Bodycam footage is certainly not all there is to digital evidence, but it is quickly becoming more common as districts add bodycams to uniform requirements. Bodycams are worn by responding officers and record the entire encounter. The video obtained gives us the law enforcement’s eye view of the situation and lets us see and hear exactly what happened in real-time. These files can be minutes to hours long, posing a problem when it comes to uploading them or sharing them with other required parties to the case. Digital evidence management systems allow you to upload any size file in just seconds. Through normalization and encryption, the files are also hassle-free to share and re-play during a hearing.
- Crime Scene Photos and Videos: If you’ve watched any episode of NCIS, CSI, Dexter, or any crime show, you’ve seen investigators taking pictures of the crime scene. That’s not just something added in for the show – officers take photos of crime scenes so that they can be closely inspected later on. There’s recently been an uptick in districts opting to record via video. These files are admitted into evidence so that both parties can inspect them closely. You’ll see photos of the crime scene itself, anything suspicious found in the area (typically marked with those little yellow flags with numbers on them), blood spatter analysis, and more. When put together, crime scene media helps break down the events. There are countless examples of cases initially deemed one type, only to later be proven as a different type entirely. It’s crucial that these assets are not tampered with and maintain a legitimate chain of custody so that they are admissible come the trial.
- Example of crime scene photos coming into play: A Florida man places the gun in the victim’s non-dominant hands and claims it was a suicide. Photos of the scene can be presented in court to the jury.
- 9-1-1 Audio Recordings: Did you know that audio files are also considered digital evidence? In many cases, the 9-1-1 call is admitted to the court. There are many things to be learned from an emergency call. True crime buffs out there probably just listed three or four without thinking twice. Here are a few ways 9-1-1 calls have been useful in the past. There are many examples of each, so feel free to hunt some down online (maybe not on a public computer though to avoid a questionable search history).
- Victims calling in an accident, break-in, or other disturbance.
- Neighbors hearing someone in distress and wanting officers to come check in.
- The perpetrator themselves owning up to what they did.
- Concerned citizens calling in an accident, disturbing scene, or otherwise questionable/illegal event.
Before digital evidence management systems, storing and playing these recordings was a messy process. We don’t mean poorly-named-files-lost-in-the-abyss messy (though that certainly happens as well), we mean full-out transfer to a DVD or cassette and fumbling to work the equipment needed to play it back in the trial. Didn’t think cassettes were still a thing? Think again! The courts love to hold onto “retro” technology.
- Scanned Hardcopy Documents: To be truthful, this final category isn’t isolated to law enforcement. We included it here, however, because officers do tend to utilize it often. Hardcopy documents can be scanned and stored as a digital copy that is easy to share with the necessary parties. When it comes to evidence, this is an extremely useful tool. If you follow the old paper-based process, only one person has access to the document at a time. Once you make it digital, multiple people can access it at once without breaking the chain of custody. Digital evidence management even allows individuals to comment and jot down notes on the document that are only visible to them and their team. For example, let’s say we have a prosecutor and a DA who both want to read through a suicide note found at the crime scene. They are both able to simultaneously go into the digital version and write notes to themselves. They can return and see their own notes, but they cannot see the other party’s thoughts. It’s a quick, easy, and convenient process that can help drastically avoid delays in cases. Other documents can include:
- Legal documents
- Incident Reports
- Journal entries
- Pages in books or magazines of importance (ie highlighted passages with a secret meaning)
- Physical photographs
- Newspaper articles
- And more
So What’s The Next Step?
Now that you have the full picture of digital evidence, we hope it’s clear why these files can be overwhelming using out-of-date processes. We’ve seen first-hand offices turned storage rooms with box after box of evidentiary files. We’ve heard horror stories of trials being delayed because there was only one document and multiple parties wanted to look it over. The courts simply cannot continue to rely on paper pushing to get things done. As technology advances around us, it’s important that the court system evolves as well. Digital evidence management will likely be a necessity for all courts in the not-so-distant future. Take the guesswork out of managing exhibits by enlisting a state-of-the-art system that lets you do it all – import, edit, view, playback, export, present, etc. The pandemic jumpstarted the movement to transform the courts into paperless processes, and we don’t see the trend dying out any time soon. A solid digital evidence management platform will become commonplace to speed up trials, reduce chain of custody violations, or otherwise impede the case.
I Need More Info About Digital Evidence Management
For questions and further discussions about managing digital evidence, feel free to reach out. Our team is always happy to explain the process in more detail as well as provide examples of successes we’ve seen in courts we work with. We love to talk court tech so much that we always have real, personable, anything-but-robotic people available through webchat. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, check it out in our blog!