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Digital Evidence and the U.S. Criminal Justice System - Identifying Technology and Other Needs to More Effectively Acquire and Utilize Digital Evidence

NCJ Number
Sean E. Goodison; Robert C. Davis; Brian A. Jackson
Date Published
32 pages
This report describes the results of a National Institute of Justice (NIJ)-sponsored research effort to identify and prioritize criminal justice needs related to digital evidence collection, management, analysis, and use.
With digital devices becoming ubiquitous, digital evidence is increasingly important to the investigation and prosecution of many types of crimes. These devices often contain information about crimes committed, movement of suspects, and criminal associates. However, there are significant challenges to successfully using digital evidence in prosecutions. Key Findings include: 1) Law enforcement is unanimous in noting the considerable quantity of evidence analyzed by examiners and challenges in obtaining the necessary support, in terms of both funding and staffing. 2) Law enforcement and court note potential difficulties with prosecutors not understanding elements of digital evidence. Judges, juries, and defense attorneys also have a stake in appropriate use of digital evidence. Of these, defense attorneys appear to be farthest behind the curve, but are likely to catch up quickly. And, 3) 34 different needs we identified that could improve the capabilities of the criminal justice system with respect to digital evidence. Nine top-tier needs were identified through the Delphi process as highest priority. Recommendations from the study include: 1) better educating prosecutors and judges; 2) enabling first-responding patrol officers and detectives to be better prepared for incident scenes where digital evidence might be present; 3) provide for better prioritization and triage analysis of digital evidence given scarce resources; 4) develop regional models to make digital evidence analysis capability available to small departments; and 5) address concerns about maintaining the currency of training and technology available to digital forensic examiners.