Over the course of the last decade or so, the use of cellular phone records by law enforcement has become routine for a variety of applications. Positioning data and the timing of calls, messaging, and other signs of activity are frequently used to reconstruct the timeline of events leading up to a crime, to substantiate alibis placing suspects outside of the physical proximity of the crime, and to gain background information about a person's movements and activities. Over the last couple of years, though, a couple of cases from around the country have begun to bring new scrutiny to the way cellular phone records are used by the police.
According to a Washington Post article from 2014, a couple of cases from Oregon and Chicago have begun to turn the tide, with judges writing that law enforcement overstated the accuracy of cellular phone data when presenting it to the court. When information from those rulings is allowed to be used in new cases, defense attorneys have been able to persuade juries to acquit defendants of various crimes, including serious offenses like kidnapping.
The primary culprit seems to be a misunderstanding of what the data from cell phones means and how the methodology for investigating that data should be approached, according to the Post. Improving understanding for both prosecutors and the defense is the step researchers recommend to make cellular phone data more reliable.
The trustworthiness of data
The heart of the controversy over the use of these records is the way cellular phones interact with cell towers in an area and how to understand what that means. Inaccurate comprehensions of this information, or inaccurate interpretations of what it means when it comes to triangulating a position, can lead to a number of missteps. In addition to that, a variety of other factors can contribute to the inaccuracy of phone records, including:
- A misunderstanding of when cellular phones do and do not rely on the closest cell towers
- The operation of computerized switching stations to regulate this phenomenon
- Lack of attention to the records of that switching station's software
If you are suspected of a crime
If you have been charged with a crime, there is a fair chance that law enforcement will be using cellular phone records and other investigative methods to build a case. Making sure your defense is both complete and accurate means talking to a defense attorney who understands the importance of scientific understanding in an accurate presentation of the evidence.
Talk to a defense attorney today to get the legal advice you need to mount your defense.