Troubleshooting Cellphone Technology in Court Cases
By Csaba Sukosd | December 6, 2019
Smartphones are arguably the biggest technological evolution over the past generation. That change is particularly noticeable in court cases.
The subject of cellphone forensics and cellular location evidence was the opening topic at the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association's annual winter conference in Dublin.
Since the development of text messaging and global positioning systems (GPS) on cellphones, both have become more prevalent as evidence in cases as a way to prove or disprove a claim.
"It is now common for us, especially in criminal cases, to see this kind of evidence introduced to establish locations of defendants and victims," said Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Ian English, who added that half of his criminal cases this year involved cellphone evidence.
Given the increased accuracy in which cellphone signals can place a person's whereabouts at certain times, law enforcement is utilizing advanced technology as part of its investigative methods to justify warrants presented to judges. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John Russo described it as a routine approach that's becoming more common at the state and local levels.
"If we're able to substantiate that it's an individual that might be under investigation, it's led us to homes. It's led to cars where we're then able to put a tracker on a car because of that continual use of illegal activity," said Judge Russo.
While things like texts and GPS data are meant to provide clarity for the courts, there's newer technology that can deceive those records. "Spoofing" is a way for someone to doctor dialed phone numbers. There are also apps that can alter messages, such as who sent them, or what was communicated.
"You oftentimes get defendants who are alleging that they didn't send the text, or they didn't make that call," said Stark County Common Pleas Judge Taryn Heath.
During his hourlong presentation, forensics expert Larry Daniel explained how the science has changed throughout the years, including the development of new tools used to counter bogus clues. It's part of an ever-changing digital world where innovation is inevitable. As some use it for personal gain, others will counter with efforts to seek the truth.
"I think you're going to see a continual process, like you always do. As technology gets better, the investigating technology will get better in response to that," said Judge Russo.