Courts Don’t Know What to Do With Digital Evidence


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The debate is back on. The Supreme Court will rule whether the state of Rhode Island legally or illegally seized text messages from alleged murderer Michael Patino. Patino was charged of murdering 6 year old Marco Nieves, largely based on text messages on his girlfriend’s cellphone. In 2012, a Rhode Island court ruled that the evidence was obtained illegally, without a required search warrant.

The State Appeals the Decision; Brings Smartphone and Email Privacy to the Supreme Court

The state of Rhode Island recently asked courts to reconsider tossing the most condemning advice against Patino — mobile phone evidence (specifically, the text messages). Ruling in favor of searching and using the texts without a warrant is not unheard of. “Massachusetts’ highest court held in December that police did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they searched the call history on a drug suspect’s cellphone after he was arrested,” the Daily Record Newswire reports. However, courts, lawyers, and computer forensics specialists have yet to reach a consensus about mobile and computer forensic evidence. “The courts are all over the place. They can’t even agree if there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages that would trigger Fourth Amendment protection,” Lawyer Hanni Fakhoury tells The New York Times.

Is the Appeal Against Patino a Special Case?

Some argue that the case against Patino is not straight forward. It is not a matter of searching mobile phone evidence on Patino’s personal smartphone or cellphone, police tell The Providence Journal. “You have no expectation of privacy on a phone that doesn’t belong to you,” Lieutenant Weisman said.

When it comes down to it, the fact of the matter is that courts do not know exactly what to do with mobile phone evidence. Digital forensic investigators and mobile phone forensics advances constantly; courts can take months — or even years — to come to a consensus about new laws.

Digital forensics investigators are wholly capable of retrieving ample emails, documents, data, and text messages to persecute today’s criminals. Courts, laws, and ethics, however, continue to struggle to keep up. Visit here for more.

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