Prosecutors and digital evidence: cloud-based technologies offer a solution

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An empty courtroom is seen at the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, New York, U.S., August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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Digital evidence, in all its forms, is a somewhat new development for law enforcement investigations, and more and more court cases depend on it.

Criminal prosecutors have always faced daunting tasks and increasing workloads in the pursuit of justice. As a former assistant district attorney, I remember some of those challenges quite clearly, including how to build a case that ensures justice is served. allparties.

One of the most important obligations of a prosecutor is the legal obligation to hand over exculpatory evidence, that is, evidence that could prove innocence, reduce a sentence, or cast doubt on a suspect’s guilt.

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Prosecutors continue to face evidence-related technology issues, especially where digital evidence is involved. It was true when I was a prosecutor, and it continues to be an important topic now, in 2022.

“The biggest thing that prosecutors faced before COVID and continue to face today is the ability to access evidence,” said Mahesh Rengaswamy, senior director of digital courts strategy at Thomson Reuters. “Prosecutors need a consistent way to access the information they need to do their job in a timely manner.”

Video evidence, body cameras and more

I remember when a police report appeared on my desk and I noticed there was video evidence of the alleged crime. I have often approached these moments with a certain trepidation. Did the agent bring me a DVD copy of the video? Will the video play on my computer? Even if so, will the video clearly show what the officer was alleging in the report? And if the video is not playable, do we have to drop an otherwise provable case?

Digital evidence is a relatively new phenomenon for law enforcement investigations. And yet, more and more cases depend on it, and that includes digital evidence such as: video footage of a crime scene from closed-circuit television (CCTV); video footage from a civilian’s cell phone or their own security cameras such as Ring or Nest; footage from an officer’s body camera; data or information on personal computers or portable electronic devices such as smartphones; And the list continues. Simply put, the amount of data processed by prosecutors has exploded.

Admissibility in court is one of the main issues underlying digital evidence. Is there an appropriate chain of custody showing how physical or electronic evidence in criminal and civil investigations has been handled? This generally means a chronological paper trail documenting when, how and by whom individual pieces of physical or electronic evidence were collected, handled, analyzed or otherwise controlled during an investigation.

Digital Evidence Clearinghouse

A cloud-based digital evidence clearinghouse where evidence is collected, uploaded and stored in a central repository – while providing a digital paper trail – is one avenue experts are considering. Law enforcement could funnel evidence into a single system and have it tagged and organized for easy use and sharing, Rengaswamy says. It could be still photos of a license plate or actual video footage of an attempted robbery at a convenience store. “There would be no hunting or phone calls to 15 different people to authenticate the piece of evidence,” Rengaswamy says.

This digital evidence clearinghouse would be a central location where all information is aggregated across multiple law enforcement agencies. This would solve a workflow challenge that currently requires prosecutors to deal with multiple agencies at once, whether city, county, or federal law enforcement, all of which may use different systems for collecting evidence and submitting it to the prosecutor. In a cloud-based environment, this would turn into one solution, one place.

Inefficiency in data exchange

One thing that law enforcement officers and prosecutors could use more of is time. Dealing with digital evidence issues often requires the transfer of large amounts of data, which is time consuming. In an officer’s body camera footage, for example, there is time to save the footage, retrieve it from the officer’s device, and then upload it to the service’s server. police. Then the evidence will move from the server to the prosecutor, who will hopefully be able to access it when the police report arrives at the prosecutor’s office. Finally, a prosecutor must also ensure that a copy is made for the defendant and the defense attorney.

Rengaswamy suggests that if an officer had access to a cloud-based digital solution, the camera footage would simply be uploaded instantly when the officer logs into the server, either back in the police cruiser or back at that station. . The power of immediately Pushing information to a cloud server that everyone has access to eliminates many accessibility issues.

“The days of coding and integration to move bits of data from law enforcement to the prosecution are over,” notes Rengaswamy. “Cloud technologies eliminate all of that. There is a copy of the digital file that anyone can use. This is the ultimate goal.

Exclusive video footage

Having one place to upload, store, and access digital evidence is a great idea, but what about civilians or other people who use older CCTV cameras with proprietary video systems that only play on their DVD players or another format?

Rengaswamy explains that this shouldn’t be a problem since it’s often the same underlying codec or technology, in most cases an .mp3 or .mp4 file. “Today, there are software tools that can essentially decode proprietary data and make it readable on a simple web browser,” he adds.

Indeed, we’ve come a long way since the days when the police officer had to bring the entire hard drive back to the DA’s office to play the video, or burn a DVD and play it on a specific player that only played those specific videos. sizes.

“In the pursuit of truth, justice and transparency, everyone should sing from the same digital sheet music (evidence),” Rengaswamy says. “Everyone can have access to the same information, which leads to guaranteeing access to justice.”

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The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which is committed to integrity, independence and non-partisanship by principles of trust. Thomson Reuters Institute is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

Gina Jurva

Gina Jurva, Esq., is Head of Enterprise Content Platform for Business and Government for Thomson Reuters. Gina is working on solutions to some of the world’s most pressing fraud issues, including anti-money laundering (AML), e-commerce fraud and healthcare fraud, in addition to risk and regulatory compliance. In a previous role at Thomson Reuters, Gina worked as a copywriter and senior legal editor. Additionally, she spent a combined 11 years as an assistant district attorney handling both misdemeanor and felony cases and later her own legal practice defending clients in criminal cases. Gina graduated from Santa Clara University with a BA in English and a minor in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She subsequently obtained her law degree with double specialization certificates in criminal law and litigation. She is a recent graduate of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University.

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