In the United States, all persons are innocent until proven guilty. We learn very early in life that you need proof to back up any argument. You need to be able to prove that 2+2 equals 4, that if you mix red and yellow you get orange, etc. As our arguments, or opinions, move onto more mature and important topics, proof is more crucial than ever. You have to produce a license to prove you are old enough to consume alcohol. You must prove that you have the skills required for a job before it is awarded to you. In the worst cases, you have to prove that you did not commit a crime or break any laws. This proof is referred to as evidence.
Evidence is a key player in the justice system. In both criminal and civil cases, evidence helps to form a case and come to a fair conclusion. Without it, there is no proof, and it would be unjust to convict someone. As necessary as evidence is, discovery is an extremely complex process that takes several months for each and every case. There are many moving parts and several different parties involved, creating a tricky situation requiring excellent management capabilities. Legacy systems have done their jobs, but as evidence changes, it’s time for the technology used to change as well. With some modern upgrades, the process of discovery becomes faster and more accurate. Let’s dive into the discovery phase of trials and discuss some common shortcomings, as well as solutions you can implement to overcome problems you encounter.
What is Discovery?
Discovery is one of the first phases of a trial. It involves collecting information and evidence, submitting them for approval, and organizing various items to build your case. Prosecutors, DAs, and other law personnel are heavily involved in the discovery process, as it’s the most important aspect of their case. Several classes of evidence are submitted during discovery – depositions, written evidence, physical evidence, circumstantial evidence, and interrogatories. Anything that a lawyer wishes to bring to court must be submitted beforehand as evidence. A submission does not guarantee admission however, as a judge must look through all evidence in discovery to determine what is applicable to the case.
However, discovery is more than just submitting evidence; it is the opportunity all parties have to communicate with one another. They can ask questions, collect statements, clarify timelines and stories, etc. If the discovery process didn’t exist, court proceedings would take an exorbitant amount of time. Contrary to what you often see on television, someone cannot burst into a trial with new evidence and have it instantly solve the case. Without following procedure, evidence is inadmissible and can even lead to a mistrial. You see, discovery is where the distinction is made between evidence and exhibits. Once accepted, evidence is given an exhibit number, letter, or code. All exhibits have been cleared for use in the case by the overseeing judge. Evidence is a more broad term and refers to everything pre-approval. Attorneys might have a large stack of evidence, but regulations and relevancy can whittle down the pile to just a few exhibits.
What Types of Evidence Are Submitted?
As mentioned, there are different classes of evidence based on where it was obtained, what it says about the crime, and how it will be used. What many people fail to consider is how many categories of evidence can exist within a case . New formats are used every day, making evidence management a headache without the proper system in place. Courts and attorneys need ways to upload, store, manage, and review hundreds of media types, including some obsolete versions that are nearly impossible to playback. Some of the most common formats of evidence submitted in discovery include:
- Police Records
- Written Statements
- Audio Recording
- Questions to ask witnesses
- Cell phone dumps/records
- Emails/Digital Documents
- Social Media pages
- Physical evidence
- CCTV footage
This list is just a small sample of what you can see as evidence, and it’s clear that you’re looking at a wide range of devices or software required to manage it. You’ll need compatible computer programs, DVD players, VCRs, tape players, databases, and more to control the influx of accepted exhibits. As you would imagine, keeping things in order can be a nightmare, and trying to display these various formats can take a full IT team.
Improving the Process
Luckily, there are solutions on the rise that can combat the struggles of evidence management. ImageSoft’s Digital Evidence Management (DEM) allows you to upload, normalize, store, manage, share, and playback dozens of file types from a single platform. Here’s a few ways it’s changing the discovery process for the better:
- Upload from anywhere: When you work with Digital Evidence Management, you are able to upload new files from anywhere with internet access. Not only is this more convenient for prosecutors, but it also speeds up discovery considerably by allowing the process to get started on a shorter timeline. Think of the time spent collecting files, organizing them, and bringing them to the court. It is much simpler for everyone to have the power to upload from any device at any time.
- Normalize files into formats compatible with almost all devices: One of the most useful capabilities of ImageSoft’s Digital Evidence Management system is file normalization. As mentioned, exhibits come in all formats. You shouldn’t need a room of various players and IT equipment to watch videos, view documents, or play exhibits back to review. With DEM, all files are uploaded and automatically normalized/converted into formats that are playable on most devices. For example, some CCTV and security footage is in a proprietary format, DEM converts them to mp4s that can be viewed from a phone, tablet, or computer.
- Easy and immediate in-platform sharing: Because the discovery process relies so heavily on the ability to share information, it only makes sense to offer an easier way to do so. There’s no need to drive evidence back and forth, communicate via email threads or post-it notes, or schedule meeting times. Digital Evidence Management gives all authorized parties 24/7 access to all files, and the ability to share with just a few clicks. There’s even an in-platform notation option to replace hand-scrawled notes cluttering up your desk. It’s paperless and much more respectful of everyone’s time and schedule.
- Storage is a non-issue, even for large amounts of exhibits: Digital Evidence Management eliminates the need for massive evidence storage closets and cabinets. Files are stored on the cloud and can be found with a quick search. Dump data from cellphones and save as much as you’d like without cluttering your office or storage closet. Should a case be appealed, prosecutors can easily access the entire evidence file even years into the future.
There are many other benefits that come from adopting Digital Evidence Management. By moving the discovery process to a digital platform, you save time, paper, resources, and money.Submission and approval move exponentially quicker, allowing prosecutors maximum time to prepare their cases before trial. The entire system encourages communication and file sharing, taking the stress out of discovery and allowing all parties to feel equal throughout.
Evidence is what makes or breaks a case. Discovery is the attorney’s opportunity to compile evidence that supports their argument. It’s a critical phase, that when bogged down by communication and inefficient processes, can slow down the judicial process. The faster exhibits are accepted, the sooner prosecutors can get to work, and the quicker justice can be served.With Digital Evidence Management, courts and prosecutors will be able to handle an influx of digital exhibits that are becoming more common each year. To learn more about ImageSoft’s DEM solution, please visit https://nathana12.sg-host.com/courts/digital-evidence-management/.