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Daily Journal
     May 12, 2021      #27-132 KDJ

Digital evidence helps attorneys prove a person's

By Jeff Bonty

KANKAKEE — Among prosecutors and defense attorneys, it’s known as the “CSI effect.”

“Crime Scene Investigation (CSI)” was a cutting edge CBS television drama series more than a decade ago that depicted investigators proving a defendant’s guilty.

It crept into actual criminal trials.

“[Jurors] want to see the DNA and the fingerprints,” explained Marlow Jones, the chief of the criminal division for the Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s office.

“Now jurors want to see text messages, Facebook posts and voicemails. They are tech savvy.”

Last month, Jones took part in a weeklong training on digital forensics and how it can be used by prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and judges.

Paid for by the federal government, the training was conducted by the U.S. Secret Service and Homeland Security.

Jones said he learned that by the end of the 1990s, there were 50 million users of the internet.

That grew to 2 billion between 2000-2009. By 2010, there were 4.5 billion users.

This year, over 60 percent of the global population uses the internet. There are 9.6 billion active mobile device subscribers worldwide.

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said, “Technology has been part of the trial [process] for a while. Now there is so much cutting-edge technology that you have to be up on it.”

He said the digital forensics training program gives officers the tools they need to search for digital evidence. But it’s not just about finding evidence to prove someone’s guilt. The techniques can also help a defendant prove innocence.

Jones discussed a case where a defendant proved via his cell phone records that he was not in the area at the time a crime occurred.

“The information can also be used to exonerate someone,” Jones said. “Justice is doing the right thing.”

Rowe agreed, adding, “It is important to prove guilt or innocence.”

As for information to pull evidence from, Jones said there is a lot out there. Today, a cellphone is considered to be a part of a person’s anatomy and is used nearly constantly. That creates a lot of data. And, he said, there’s a right and a wrong way to search that data.

“You can’t just do a fishing expedition. You have to focus and it has to be relevant to the case,” Jones said. “If it is not relevant, don’t do it.”

During the training, an instructor reviewed a case involving a gun. While looking through the defendant’s photos on his phone, they found pictures of child pornography.

Jones said training participants learned that in such a case another warrant was needed before going any further.

Also, they learned that getting warrants shouldn’t result in a simple dump or download of all the data on a phone.

“You have to be specific. You want to check emails, messages, pictures,” he said. “This makes it more efficient for police. You don’t ask officers to dump the entire contents, that is too much information.”

Jones said the experience was eye-opening.

“What Marlow learned will help law enforcement in the county,” Rowe said. “This is a person who has knowledge of what to look for and how.”

Jeff Bonty is a reporter for The Daily Journal. He can be reached at jbonty@daily-journal.com and 815-937-3366.

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