If you take a look back at our most recent blogs, you’ll notice that a lot of them are centered around (or at least include) Digital Evidence Management (DEM). While we do have some bias, considering Vault is our proprietary Digital Evidence Management product, we can assure you that the hype is absolutely justified. The world around us is changing to include more Artificial Intelligence and technology, and it’s extending into and throughout the Justice System as well. Courts need a reliable method of handling and sharing a wide variety of evidence files, and Digital Evidence Management systems like Vault can do just that.
You may ask yourself why DEM is suddenly so popular after a slow but steady increase over the last few years. As with millions of other things, we can thank (blame?) the pandemic. In-person court appearances were out of the question at the start of this whole ordeal, but justice can’t be put on hold. As such, the Justice System had to react quickly, adopting and implementing solutions designed to host valuable information online for remote access. Even though courts have returned to in-person cases, many still offer hybrid trials. Besides, the benefits of DEM systems like Vault go farther than remote convenience. Today, let’s talk about why Digital Evidence Management is a hot-button topic.
New And Evolving File Types
If you’re like many people, you frequently upgrade your technology. Maybe it’s a new laptop, the next-generation smartphone, or the limited-edition fitness tracker. We love new tech, and we have plenty of it available to us. Along with new tech comes new and larger quantities of digital files. Think of all the action your phone sees in a day. You snap some pictures, record a video, browse the web, scroll through social media… What many people don’t realize is that digital forensics – the process of finding electronic evidence from phones and other devices – is a fast-growing field. Many cases today include some form of digital evidence from the victim, perpetrator, or witness. Digital forensics teams need somewhere to store massive files that include all the data from various devices. These files are far too large for a flash drive, or even most servers to handle.
We also have to consider that there are multiple formats coming in at once. Very rarely will a case use only images or online videos. With everything at our disposal, and usually several cameras recording crime scenes, very rarely will a case use only images, or online videos Add these files to things like bodycam footage from police, scanned documents, zip files, audio recordings, etc. and you can see how managing all these assets would become a nightmare. The Justice System has made moves to adapt to new formats in the past, but the changes are happening too quickly these days to rely on old systems. You need a solution that can handle any and all files, no matter what new tech comes into play. A Digital Evidence Management System like Vault is adaptable and easy to upgrade as needed. More districts are relying on DEM just to keep up with the electronic evidence flying through the doors.
Security/Chain of Custody Concerns
We all know that evidence is critical to a case. Without evidence, there’s no leg to stand on, and it becomes your word versus theirs. Contrary to what we see in crime scene television shows and movies, evidence cannot appear out of thin air and determine the verdict of a case. There’s an elaborate process involved with discovery, and all exhibits are approved by the judge. If evidence is not given the “okay,” it is not permitted in the trial. One of the most common reasons evidence is discarded is a break in the Chain of Custody. All exhibits must be legally and morally obtained with a clear audit trail of who handled it at any point in the process. Using a paper trail can get messy, especially if any notes are incorrect or misplaced. In order to protect the integrity of the Chain of Custody, Digital Evidence Management systems like Vault have built-in audit trackers. A digital trail is documented whenever a file is uploaded, shared, viewed, reviewed, or moved. If questions arise, the judge can go back into the logs and see a play-by-play of what happened.
Review and Playback Difficulties
This is one of the most important aspects of Digital Evidence Management. It goes hand in hand with point number one: there are always new technology files. Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys need to be able to playback evidence in court for the judge and jury. For many courts, that still involves a different media player for each file type. If the case involves a USB, a CD, and a DVD, that’s three separate devices that need to be moved and set up before and during the trial. If these devices fail due to old age, or if the court doesn’t have access to them, the attorneys may find themselves up the creek without a paddle. With a system like Vault, all evidence is converted to easy-to-play formats. Files are normalized so they can be reviewed and played back with almost any device. This allows court proceedings to go smoothly, as you can display all evidence with just a laptop or computer. Digital Evidence Management eliminates the need for hard-copy disks, multiple players, and bulky tech carts.
For some courts, there is no device available to playback video footage, even if they wanted to. You see, big-name security brands have developed their own proprietary file types. It may not seem like a big deal, but unfamiliar file types cannot be played on just any device. Typically, you need a special player or software in order to review footage (See the previous section!). These programs are often expensive, and every party involved with the case would need to purchase it for the discovery portion of the job. No court wants to spend exorbitant amounts of money on software or devices that they rarely ever use. If you were to show up with proprietary video evidence, you wouldn’t be able to display it in court.
To be clear, not all Digital Evidence Management platforms have the capability to convert proprietary formats. ImageSoft worked diligently to ensure that Vault can handle some of the most common players in the game. We spoke directly with Justice System personnel to identify a) which proprietary formats they see most frequently, b) what format would be the easiest to playback, and c) how big of a problem proprietary video is. As more and more cases include CCTV, security camera, and body cam footage, the need for file normalization has skyrocketed. It’s our hope that Vault solves some of the challenges and helps the justice process move more efficiently. Of course, convenience is a key factor in why Digital Evidence Management is such a hot-button topic. All the more specific problems alleviated by DEM are making court proceedings sticky and clunky. With a system like Vault, challenges are overcome one after another. We’re sure you’d agree that a simple task is a convenient task. As more offices implement Digital Evidence Management, we expect to see more transparency in the courts, faster turnarounds, more appropriately managed evidence, and fewer headaches for all involved. Learn more about Digital Evidence Management and Vault at https://imagesoftinc.com/courts/digital-evidence-management/.