Today, criminal defense involves a wide variety of innovative techniques and technologies to ensure that a defendant has the best possible case to mount in court. One growing field in criminal defense is the use of computer forensics to analyze the accuser, defendant, and witnesses in the case and to verify or challenge their version of events.
One example of this process recently resulted in dropped charges in a case against a California man concerning a violent carjacking which took place in February of 2016. Enrique Garcia was charged with the crime after being incorrectly identified as the culprit by an eyewitness. Although he claimed he was innocent throughout the trial, his first trial ended in a hung jury, and he was set to face a retrial and the possibility of imprisonment for up to 25 years.
Garcia was proven innocent after a private forensic analyst was hired by Garcia's lawyer to evaluate the case and help him to prove his alibi. The analyst, Mark J. McLaughlin, used forensic tools which are usually implemented by police in detective work. McLaughlin analyzed Garcia's phone to extract data concerning which cell phone towers Garcia's phone was using. This information helped to prove Garcia's alibi of being at his school, four miles from the carjacking, at the time of the incident.
McLaughlin also used information about when Garcia logged into his Facebook to prove that Garcia was in possession of his phone the whole time (someone else could not have been using his phone at the time in question). Lastly, the content of the texts was found to be relevant, as the defense noted, "When you're in a texting exchange with a girl about a date, it's highly unlikely you're also committing a carjacking."
McLaughlin commented that computer data is becoming more important in criminal cases. Before, “The ability to place someone at the scene of a crime is typically done by eyewitnesses, or through something unique they leave behind like fingerprints.” Now, he argues, "When digital evidence from mobile phones and social media shows a defendant was never near the crime scene, but instead in school over four miles away, you could say it holds the same weight as DNA evidence."
After the evidence was introduced to the court, the judge dismissed the case and Garcia was able to return to his family who was waiting outside the courtroom. This case helps to show how important the use of digital forensic information can be to a criminal defense case. It is up to the defense attorney, however, to understand this and to make the call to involve experts to analyze digital evidence. Even when cell phones, text or email exchanges, or laptops are not directly involved in the events of the case, they can still contain pertinent information that can help bolster a strong defense.