The execution of search warrants is in the digital press again. The Plain View Doctrine allows for the seizure of evidence without a search warrant generally because of the nature of the evidence. Two court rulings are of interest when it comes to being secure in our papers and property.
For some time now, various authors have suggested eliminating plain view from searches of computer hard drives and other digital evidence. The real issue with plain view in computer searches is a misunderstanding of what a computer search is versus the forensic examination of a computer hard drive.
In a real case scenario, investigators seized a laptop computer from a crime scene. After creating a forensic image of the hard drive, the examiner discovered hundreds of pornographic pictures and movies depicting underage children. He then exported all the incriminating data and the subject was charged with possession of child pornography. Is the search of the computer’s hard drive legal? Will the child pornography be admissible at the time of trial?
Pertaining to the seizure of digital devices, there is some misunderstanding concerning what “executing the warrant” actually means. This case scenario examines the technicalities of serving a search warrant when dealing with digital evidence. At what point do you need a new warrant to search further on a computer?
A recent Supreme Court ruling places computer forensics under the scope of Court’s requirement for live testimony by forensic analysts. Although this controversial 5 to 4 decision was well-debated and resolved on constitutional grounds, the ramifications may include increased burdens placed on already over-taxed cybercrime labs.
The Digital Evidence discipline became part of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board’s (ASCLD/LAB) accreditation program in April 2003.
Digital Evidence, like any other type of evidence, requires identification, collection, a chain of custody, examination/analysis, and finally authentication in court during presentation to the trier of fact.