This is the digital age. More people have an online presence than ever before, and it only grows each year. This means that law enforcement officials have to adjust to these new circumstances.
The nature of an investigation has changed since at least some of the evidence gathered in connection with crimes such as drug trafficking, murder or other serious offenses will have a digital component. Even though the evidence comes from a computer or some other electronic device, investigators must still handle it in the appropriate manner.
What happens to your digital information?
When police suspect you of a crime and you face criminal charges, officers may be able to obtain a search warrant for your personal property. This may include your computer, phone and other electronic devices. Police search these items in an attempt to find incriminating evidence against you that prosecutors can admit into evidence in court.
The law requires that such information and materials are properly handled in order to ensure that no one has “planted” evidence against you. For instance, if the material is not stored in a secure area, anyone could gain access to it and tamper with it, which could invalidate it in court. For this reason, criminal defense attorneys often scrutinize the chain of custody of every piece of alleged evidence to make sure your rights were not violated.
The chain of custody must remain intact
Just as is the case with any physical piece of alleged evidence against you, digital evidence must also follow a chain of custody in order to maintain its integrity in court. Evidence may not be admitted to court if Oklahoma prosecutors cannot prove that no one tampered with it or otherwise compromised it. Anyone testifying or presenting such evidence to the court will need to answer the following questions to the satisfaction of the court:
- At what date and time was the material collected?
- How did investigators collect the materials?
- How did investigators transport it?
- How did forensic analysts, investigators and anyone else track the alleged evidence?
- Did officials properly store the items?
- Did officials limit access to the material to limit contamination and tampering?
The court will not simply take the word of prosecutors, investigators or forensic analysts. They will need to provide proof. If any question regarding the chain of custody arises, the court may not allow the admission of some or all of the materials into evidence.