Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $340,000)
Digital evidence is an essential part of criminal investigation and prosecution. By reviewing data created, distributed, and possessed on smartphones, computers, and third-party sources (e.g. social media, call detail records), law enforcement can assess a suspect’s identity, intent, movements, and other relevant aspects of a criminal case. The amount of information can be overwhelming and most prosecutors lack the skills to identify and use digital evidence effectively.
Because the Louisiana District Attorneys Association (LDAA) estimates conservatively that digital evidence is involved in 80% of criminal cases, efficient examination and presentation of digital evidence would enhance the disposition of cases, whether by plea, trial, or dismissal. Yet, with at least half of Louisiana’s 64 parishes considered persistent-poverty counties, limited financial resources hamper criminal investigation and prosecution. Over 20% of Louisianans live in rural areas, which are often neglected, and 19% live in poverty. In fact, 73% of all judicial districts are rural, with an average of only 3.8 prosecutors (vis-a-vis an average of 22.7 prosecutors in urban areas). The limited number of prosecutors with experience in digital evidence, coupled with lack of training, jeopardize viable prosecutions, as well as the rights of defendants and of victims.
This project will provide digital evidence training supplemented with equipment to substantially upgrade the skills of Louisiana prosecutors, whose limited resources compound its challenges with digital evidence.
The LDAA, and project partners, will develop Digital Evidence Experiential Training (DEET) to equip prosecutors to effectively and sustainably use digital evidence. The Project will include development and delivery of a nationally-replicable curriculum (Deliverable 1) and written policies and practices related to digital evidence use for prosecutors’ offices (Deliverable 2). The training curriculum will address issues that span the entirety of a criminal case, from the legal process needed for the collection of evidence, to the proper analysis of that evidence, to its use in plea negotiations or at trial. The written policies will support prosecutors’ offices in Louisiana and nationwide in framing local practices around accessing and using digital evidence.
The impact of this grant will be three-fold: 1) prosecutors will be effectively and comprehensively trained on understanding digital evidence; 2) citizens accused of crimes will be confident in the accounting and integrity of the digital evidence presented by the state; and 3) prosecutors will make the best use of time in jury trials by presenting digital evidence clearly and cogently.