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Take It From a Criminal Defense Lawyer: Cell Phones Can Help (or Hurt) Your Case, Part 1

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Cell phones: electronic DNA

Our culture, currently, takes DNA for granted. Just look at “CSI” or any other cop/forensic show on TV. The episode begins by collecting a DNA sample, and by the first commercial, results are being compared on a national computer database.

It doesn’t happen that fast in real life. As Columbus, Ohio criminal defense attorneys, we know. But the accuracy of DNA and its common availability as a crime-fighting tool is spot on.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when DNA wasn’t common. In fact, it didn’t exist at all in criminal cases. In the ’80s and early ’90s we were still working with blood-type comparison and other less-reliable evidence. The OJ Simpson case was one of the first national breakout cases where DNA was in the news as a crime-solving tool (turns out it failed, but that’s another matter).

So what’s this have to do with cell phones? Well, smartphones are the new electronic DNA. When we meet with a client in a criminal case, one of the first things we consider is how smartphones can help (or hurt) a criminal-defense case.

While we’ve covered how social media can be used against you in a criminal case, most people don’t realize the evidentiary potential of the phone in their pocket. Phones can tell us (and the police) where you’ve been, who you’ve been with, what you like, what you don’t like, who you talk to, what you’ve read, what you’ve researched, what you’ve said, etc. The list goes on and on.

This has led us to conclude that cell phones are the electronic equivalent of DNA. While we can’t possibly cover everything, we can give an overview of what you are really carrying around in your pocket every day. Stay tuned for Part 2 on how cell phones can be used as evidence to hurt or help your criminal-defense case.

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The basics of cell phones as evidence

There’s a reason most of us lock our phones with some sort of password protection. Maybe we don’t want our kids to see our “adult” text chatter. Or maybe mom and dad are sending some “private” pics of each other.

It doesn’t take much to imagine what someone could see if they had access to our phone. They would see emails, text strings, pictures, voice mails, Facebook posts, saved documents, calendars, phone call logs (including duration). 

Funny the last thing on that list is phone call logs. Even though we are dealing with a phone, the call logs seem like the least of our concerns. The other stuff is a lot juicier. In the context of a criminal case, call logs are equally important and potentially dangerous, as seen in the popular NPR podcast “Serial.”

For this type of information, no special analysis is required. If cops can navigate through a smartphone operating system, they can get this stuff almost immediately. All they have to do is look.

But imagine if they had a bit of time and a little creativity. They might get access (via apps) to bank records, credit reports, and passwords. Think where that could lead. The possibilities are almost limitless.

Again, this is without any specific technological knowledge. Your cell phone is your identity.

Why it pays to find the right criminal defense attorney

Cell phones are part of our lives, and they’re here to stay. Every day we see a new ad for the next latest and greatest smartphone.

Because phones are part of our lives, they become part of our cases, particularly criminal cases. Think about alibis, witness impeachment, basic timeline, or any other creative way this stuff matters.

The important thing is to hire an attorney who understands the issues and has access to the experts. We can’t ignore just because we don’t know it.

If you’d like to schedule a consultation with us, you can call 614.224.6142, or click here to fill out our consultation request form.

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