U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Digital Evidence in the Courtroom: A Guide For Law Enforcement and Prosecutors

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2007
81 pages
This fourth in a series of guides on digital (computer-related) evidence is addressed to law enforcement officers and prosecutors, as it focuses on key issues in the collection, management, preparation, and courtroom presentation of digital evidence.
The first chapter discusses search and seizure issues pertinent to digital evidence. It reviews several Federal statutes that govern access to and disclosure of certain types of information to which the U.S. Congress has given special attention. These statutes include the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Privacy Protection Act. Also examined are principles applicable under the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Chapter 2 pertains to the integrity, discovery, and disclosure of digital evidence. Maintaining the integrity of digital evidence throughout the investigative process presents problems different from those associated with handling traditional physical or documentary evidence. This chapter addresses selected issues associated with maintaining the integrity of information taken from stand-alone, rather than network, electronic media. Chapter 3 focuses on three aspects of pretrial preparation of cases that involve digital evidence. First, it deals with preliminary considerations the prosecutor must address when reviewing the scope of the investigation to date. Second, it describes effective pretrial communication among prosecutors, investigators, and examiners. Third, it discusses various evidentiary issues, such as authentication and hearsay. Another chapter provides guidance on how to present a case that involves digital evidence. Among the issues discussed are the education of the judge and the jury about the digital evidence being presented, what must be proved or disproved, expert witnesses, recurring issues in computer-crime trials, jury selection, presenting complicated and technical issues, and closing argument. The concluding chapter explains how the guidelines presented in previous chapters apply to the use of digital evidence in child pornography cases. Appended resources and links, Electronic Communications Privacy Act disclosure rules, sample consent forms, and stipulation regarding evidence returned to the defendant

Date Published: January 1, 2007