Digital evidence has drastically altered how prosecutors handle sex crime cases. More and more, it eclipses the age-old “he said/she said” defense strategy. Knowing how digital evidence is used to build a case can help people prepare their defense.

What kind of digital evidence do prosecutors look for?

Most people don’t realize the incredible number of digital breadcrumbs we leave behind in our day-to-day lives. Posts on social media and public forums, combined with private data, like emails, text messages, website browsing history, saved photos and video, GPS data and metadata on phones and computers can tell a detailed story of one’s activities, both online and out in the world.

Law enforcement can easily obtain access to your private digital information, and though it’s possible to delete or alter some of that information, most people don’t know how to do that effectively. Having said that, digital evidence isn’t necessarily a smoking gun that can put someone behind bars.

The downsides of digital evidence

As we’ve already hinted, digital evidence is susceptible to numerous shortcomings that could make it less convincing in a courtroom.

For starters, most people don’t have the expertise to organize and interpret some of the more complex forms of digital evidence, such as metadata which can often be several hundred pages long. In some instances, both the prosecution and the defense will need to bring in experts to explain the information.

More straightforward data, like the contents of a hard drive, runs the risk of being modified, deleted or destroyed. Depending on how thorough one is with such interference, sometimes digital forensic experts can piece the data back together. However, that action can lead to questions about the authenticity of the evidence.

Finally, there is the question of how law enforcement acquired and handled the digital information. As with other forms of evidence, law enforcement must collect digital information in a manner that adheres to one’s Fourth Amendment privacy rights regarding search and seizure. Once collected, police must handle the evidence in accordance with strict chain of custody laws to ensure authenticity, such as documenting when, where and how they obtained the evidence. If investigators perform any of these tasks incorrectly, the evidence may not be admissible in court.

Digital evidence can make a case or bury it, depending on the circumstances. Knowing your rights and the law concerning the use of digital evidence can help build a strong defense.