Digital Evidence: Successfully Identifying and Acquiring Electronic Evidence to Combat the CSI Effect

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90 Minutes

Originally Aired
November 18, 2016

Liz Donegan
Elizabeth Donegan
Sergeant Sex Offender Apprehension and Registration Unit Supervisor, Austin Police Department
Mike Crumrine
Michael A. Crumrine
Sergeant Homicide Unit, Austin Police Department

Sex Crimes investigations have changed significantly in recent years. Some of the positive changes we see are a result of a better understanding of the impact of trauma on sexual assault victims and how to incorporate that knowledge into Department policies, procedures and protocols. However, another aspect to improving investigations and prosecutions is educating first responders and investigators about the complexity of these investigations and what steps can be taken to improve case outcomes.

Technology changes extremely quickly and law enforcement faces significant challenges to keep up. With the glamorization of policing in Hollywood, law enforcement is battling to address the CSI effect infiltrating our courtrooms.

Given the common delays in reporting crimes of sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence, traditional forms of corroboration such as medical and physical evidence may be limited or non-existent in some cases. Law enforcement must be open to other types of evidence that can be used to support their investigations. For example, electronic evidence is an avenue that law enforcement can often successfully utilize in both stranger and non-stranger investigations. Tapping into the digital life of the offender; crafting search warrants for cell phones, computers, tablets, social media and conducting pre-text (one party consent) communications are just a few of the ways to successfully combat the CSI effect. This presentation will include examples of sanitized search warrants used in actual cases to advance an investigation.


Following the webinar, participants will be better able to:

  • Recognize the different types of digital media that might be available (preservation letters, video, phone records, phone texts, cell phone tower information, social media)
  • Understand how to legally seize electronic evidence by utilizing warrants that include requests to not just seize, but examine any evidence obtained as a result of a search warrant
  • Develop a theme for the pretext communication and discuss what mode of communication might work best (e.g., phone calls, texting, email)

This project is supported by Grant No. 2015-TA-AX-K015 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

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