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Technology’s Role in Evidence-Gathering (Part 2)

The use of technology in evidence gathering has become increasingly widespread in the criminal justice system and, in turn, in legal proceedings. Recently, Whitehurst, Blackburn & Warren Partner Joe Cargile shared information from expert Charles Middelstadt about how real-world technology is catching up to what we see on television – illuminating new advances in the ways law enforcement gathers and applies evidence in an investigation. From police drones to connected cars, there are many ways in which technology can aid law enforcement in their efforts to collect evidence for criminal prosecution.

Police Drones

Police drones are equipped with cameras and other sensors that allow law enforcement to conduct surveillance from the air. They can be used to track suspects, monitor traffic, and gather evidence at crime scenes. However, the use of police drones has also raised important legal questions about privacy and civil liberties.

Cargile explains, “The US Supreme Court has established that police can observe private property from public airspace without a warrant, but this ruling only applies to drones flying at a certain altitude above private property, not within it.”

According to Middelstadt, the use of drones can offer significant cost savings compared to traditional methods of aerial surveillance. For example, using a manned helicopter can be both expensive and time-consuming. As a result, law enforcement drone use has surged by 518% over the past two years.

Despite these benefits, the use of police drones remains controversial, and the legal requirements for their use can vary depending on the specific circumstances of a case.

As Cargile explains, “the need for a warrant will depend on factors such as the altitude of the drone, the level of intrusion on the privacy of the property owner, and the laws in the jurisdiction where the operation takes place.”

Query and Exception Reports

These reports are powerful tools that enable law enforcement to analyze large amounts of data and identify inconsistencies that may suggest criminal activity. Query and exception reports are commonly used to detect fraud, embezzlement, and other financial crimes, but they can also be used in criminal investigations to identify suspicious behavior or patterns.

For example, Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) are a type of technology that captures images of license plates and compares them against a database of vehicles associated with criminal activity. Query and exception reports generated from ALPR data can help law enforcement identify potential suspects and vehicles of interest.

While these reports can be invaluable in investigations, it's important to remember that they are not foolproof. As with any technology, there is a risk of error or misinterpretation. Therefore, it's crucial that the results of these reports are carefully scrutinized and corroborated with other forms of evidence before any legal action is taken.

“Query and exception reports can provide valuable insights for both law enforcement and legal teams,” says Cargile. “However, it's important to use caution when relying on these reports to build a case, and to ensure that any conclusions drawn from them are supported by additional evidence.”

(In fact, in Georgia, expert testimony and the sources they rely on must pass the Daubert Standard. What does that mean? Read more in our blog A New Standard in Criminal Cases >>)

Jail Call Monitoring

Monitoring calls has always been a common practice in correctional facilities, allowing officials to listen in and transcribe conversations made by inmates. The purpose of this monitoring is to identify potential criminal activity. In today’s technology-driven environment, using sophisticated algorithms and flagging systems, officials can quickly identify calls that contain certain keywords or phrases of interest. These calls can then be further analyzed to determine whether any illegal activity is taking place.

However, Cargile notes, “The use of inmate phone calls as evidence in court is subject to certain legal requirements. In particular, calls must be relevant to the case, authentic, and obtained in accordance with proper legal procedures. This may include the need for a warrant in some cases.”

Ultimately, while jail call monitoring can be a powerful tool for law enforcement, it is important to ensure that proper legal standards are being met to protect the rights of all parties involved.

Connected Cars

Connected cars are equipped with sensors and GPS technology that can track and record data such as speed, location, and acceleration. This data can be used in criminal cases to reconstruct accidents, determine fault, and identify potential criminal activity such as reckless driving or DUIs.

One high-profile example of the use of connected car data in a criminal case is the recent Alex Murdaugh trial. Murdaugh, a prominent South Carolina attorney, was indicted on charges related to the murder of his wife and son. The investigation into the murders involved a variety of technological tools, including data from Murdaugh's car.

Court documents indicate that investigators used data from Murdaugh's car to help establish his location and track his movements on the night of the murders. They were also able to corroborate other evidence, such as witness statements and surveillance footage, to establish a timeline of events leading up to the murders.

While the use of GPS data appears to have played a key role in the investigation and prosecution of the murders in the Murdaugh case, it's important to note that the use of this data was likely just one piece of a larger puzzle that included other forms of evidence and investigative techniques.

If you are facing criminal charges, it is crucial to seek legal representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your rights and interests in court.

At Whitehurst, Blackburn & Warren, our attorneys have the knowledge and expertise required to guide you through the criminal justice system. Our team includes attorneys licensed in Georgia, Florida, and at the federal level, so we are prepared to personally meet with you and discuss the defenses available in your case. Contact us today at 229-226-2161 to schedule a consultation with our team.

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