Role of Chain of Custody in the Idaho Student Murder Case

A Maze of Evidence: The Critical Role of Chain of Custody in the Idaho Student Murder Case

In high-profile, complex criminal cases, such as the University of Idaho student murder case, defense attorneys play a central role in scrutinizing and questioning the vast landscape of evidence presented by the prosecution.

The defense’s role is to create a counter-narrative, challenge the evidence’s validity, and safeguard the defendant’s rights. Their strategy is often centered around relentless demands for specific pieces of evidence, which can help them construct a robust defense or expose potential flaws in the prosecution’s case.

In the case of 28-year-old criminology student and murder suspect Bryan Kohberger, who was arrested in the University of Idaho murders incident which is dominating the news right now, the defense attorney’s persistent requests for specific evidence underscores evidence’s pivotal role in shaping a trial’s outcome and how it tilts the scales of justice.

The demand for evidence isn’t just a legal formality but a critical component of the legal process. The defense’s demands also underscore the significance of law enforcement officials maintaining meticulous records of every item collected, ensuring none is lost, mishandled, or inaccurately documented.

Such a rigorous approach to evidence management helps guarantee the integrity of the legal process and the validity of the court’s final judgment.

From Vast Evidence to a Death Penalty Case

Detectives collected more than 20,000 pieces of evidence which drew scrutiny and intrigue from the public because it included:

  • 10,000 pages of reports and other written materials
  • 10,200 photographs
  • 9,200 tips
  • 51 terabytes of phone records, audio/visual media, and digital materials

This poses the question: Is this typical or extraordinary for a serial murder case? The number is indeed staggering. However, each piece of evidence, regardless of its perceived significance, serves a unique purpose in the broader investigation. Every item collected provides a piece of the puzzle that investigators must analyze to ascertain the truth.

In this multi-jurisdictional case, the volume of evidence collected for Bryan Kohberger’s preliminary hearing came from an exhaustive investigation conducted across different states and involving numerous law enforcement agencies.

Ultimately, this massive body of evidence, meticulously gathered and analyzed, convinced prosecutors that there was sufficient cause to seek the death penalty in this first-degree murder case.

The Power of STR DNA Profiling

The breakthrough in the Bryan Kohberger case came from utilizing a procedure known as a short tandem repeat analysis or STR analysis, a common type of DNA profiling in criminal cases and other types of forensic cases, according to the National Institute of Justice. A leather knife sheath found at the murder scene with trace evidence was matched to DNA evidence of Kohberger’s father at the Pennsylvania family residence.

“The STR profile is at least 5.37 octillion times more likely to be seen if (the) Defendant is the source than if an unrelated individual randomly selected from the general population is the source,” prosecutors said in the filing. An octillion is a number equal to a 1 followed by 27 zeros.

This method offered the scientific reliability needed to identify Kohberger conclusively since the defense claimed that multiple other men’s DNA profiles were found at the Moscow, Idaho murder scene.

The Role of Evidence Management Software Like ERIN7 in Murder Investigations

In such a sprawling, multi-state, multi-jurisdictional investigation as the Bryan Kohberger case, having an efficient, reliable method of documenting and tracking evidence is mandatory. ERIN7 software, specifically designed for law enforcement purposes, provides a robust solution for these challenges. Its ability to meticulously record and trace the chain of custody on evidence collected at crime scenes plays an instrumental role in ensuring the integrity of an investigation.

Tracking over 20,000 pieces of evidence is an enormous task, and without a secure digital system like ERIN7’s, it can be prone to errors, misplacement, and mismanagement. A streamlined process of recording, tracking, and retrieving each piece of evidence, from the point of collection to the courtroom, not only makes the task manageable but also enhances the credibility of the evidence.

While ERIN Technology’s evidence management software was not involved in this particular case, the primary purpose of software like this is to allow immediate access to specific evidence when required, whether by the defense or other law enforcement agencies.

Even when there may be a lack of DNA evidence, there are typically many other kinds of evidence to be coded and tracked, such as surveillance footage, video footage, body cam footage, and security footage.

With so much manpower being devoted to finding, prosecuting, and bringing a murderer to justice, digital evidence management software (DEMS) is the only way to build a solid case and speed up the legal process. In time-sensitive investigations, efficiency makes the difference between justice served or denied.

The Bryan Kohberger defense team’s case offers an in-depth exploration of the paramount importance of comprehensive, accurate evidence documentation. It’s not just about the volume of evidence collected; it’s about the precision in its management and its role in determining the path of justice.

As technology integrates deeper into our lives, solutions like ERIN7 software are essential in establishing robust, efficient criminal justice systems. The ability to adapt and integrate such technological advancements is what will shape the future of law enforcement and criminal investigations.

For more information about ERIN7, schedule a live demo.

Robbie Giles, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The Impact Of Digital Evidence Management Software

The Impact Of Digital Evidence Management Software On Cold Case Investigations

With enhancements in evidence management software, investigators have powerful new tools and innovative methods to help solve cold cases–even decades later.

What is Evidence Management Software?

Cloud-based evidence management software is a tool that helps law enforcement organizations manage the collection, storage, and analysis of evidence. This software allows investigators to store and track evidence throughout the entire investigative process, ensuring that it is handled properly and not lost or compromised.

Evidence management software has many features that make it an essential tool for law enforcement agencies. For example, it allows investigators to assign and track evidence to specific cases, generate reports, and maintain an audit trail of all actions performed on the evidence.

How Evidence Management Software Helps Solve Cold Cases?

One of the most significant benefits of evidence management software is that it allows investigators to reexamine old cases with fresh eyes. By using this software, investigators can identify patterns in the digital media evidence and find connections between pieces of evidence that were previously overlooked.

For example, evidence inventory software helps investigators identify similarities between different cases that may have been committed by the same individual. It can bring up a list of first-party evidence and third-party evidence for manual review to help investigators identify new witnesses or suspects who were previously overlooked.

Notable Cases Solved with Evidence Management Software

There have been many cases where the evidence software has been instrumental in solving crimes. Here are some notable examples:

The Golden State Killer

The Golden State Killer was a notorious serial killer and rapist who committed crimes throughout California in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite a massive manhunt, the killer was never caught.

However, in 2018, investigators used evidence management software to reexamine the case. By analyzing DNA evidence files, investigators were able to identify a suspect who had never been on their radar before. In 2020, the suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, pleaded guilty to 13 murders and multiple rapes. Without this access to evidence in digital format, it may have delayed solving the case even longer.

How did law enforcement officers use their evidence collection? A case from the 1970s was re-opened using DNA evidence. At the time of the crimes, DNA testing was not yet available. But with the development of new DNA testing methods and the implementation of an efficient evidence management system, investigators were able to re-test old evidence to identify a suspect. 

By using the evidence management software to keep track of all the different pieces of evidence and their associated DNA results, investigators were able to build a strong case against the suspect, who was eventually convicted.

The Green River Killer

The Green River Killer was a serial killer who murdered at least 49 women in Washington state in the 1980s and 1990s. The case remained unsolved for decades, despite the efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies.

However, in 2001, investigators began using digital files to reexamine the case. A case from the 1980s was re-opened using digital imaging technology. With a new digital evidence management solution that included digital imaging capabilities, law enforcement officers could re-examine old photographs and uncover new details that had been missed before. 

By analyzing DNA evidence, investigators were able to identify a suspect, Gary Ridgway, who had previously been questioned but never charged. Ridgway eventually confessed to the murders and was sentenced to life in prison. The digital evidence management solution helped pinpoint all the types of evidence available to the criminal justice agency.

Cases Even Evidence Software Can’t Help Police Departments Solve

Unfortunately, there are still too many examples of cold cases that cannot be solved because evidentiary documents haven’t stood the test of time. This happens for a number of reasons, including

  • Poor storage conditions, such as physical evidence stored in a damp or humid environment, cause deterioration over time. This is especially problematic for biological evidence like DNA, which breaks down over time and becomes unusable for testing.
  • Break in the secure chain of custody for evidence may have been lost or mishandled over time, making it impossible to connect it to a suspect or use it to build a case. This can be especially challenging for older cases, where evidence may have been handled by multiple people over the years and the chain of custody may be difficult to establish.
  • Passage of too much time. Witnesses may have died or moved away, suspects may have passed away, or the circumstances of the case may have simply faded from memory over time. In these cases, even the best evidence management software in the world may not be enough to bring closure to victims’ families.

While it is always disappointing when a cold case cannot be solved due to issues with evidence, it is important for police forces to continue to use the best available technology and techniques to re-examine old evidence and pursue new leads. Even in cases where the inventory of evidence is no longer usable, investigators may be able to find other ways to build a case and bring justice to victims’ families.

Benefits of Using Evidence Management Software

Evidence management technology providers offer many benefits to law enforcement officials to maintain evidence integrity and chain of custody documentation. Here are some of the most significant advantages:

  • Evidence management software streamlines the process of managing evidence throughout the investigation process, making it more efficient and less time-consuming to look for leads. The software allows criminal investigations to track evidence from collection to storage to analysis, ensuring that nothing is lost or compromised.
  • Evidence management software helps ensure that evidence is handled properly and not contaminated. This software can also help prevent human error by automating tasks such as evidence labeling and chain of custody tracking. Role-based access control guarantees user compliance.
  • Evidence management software improves collaboration. Multiple investigators may work on the same case simultaneously within a centralized database via a cloud-based system, building a complete evidence inventory software.

How To Update an Evidence Management Unit

To transition a traditional evidence management unit to utilizing a faster evidence management technique, law enforcement organizations should take these 6 steps:

  1. Assess current processes: The first step in implementing a successful evidence management system is to assess the current processes and identify areas for improvement in handling various evidence types. This may involve reviewing existing documentation procedures, evaluating storage conditions for evidence, identifying chain of custody issues, and conducting an audit trail of all accesses to evidence.
  2. Choose the right software: There are many different digital evidence management software options available, and it is important to choose the right one for your agency’s needs. Some factors to consider include ease of use, compatibility with existing technology, and the ability to customize the system to meet your agency’s specific requirements. Of course, the law enforcement budget is a primary factor.
  3. Train staff: Once you have chosen an evidence management software system, it is important to plan for user administration and ensure that all staff members are properly trained on how to access user interface integrations. This may involve providing hands-on training sessions, creating user manuals or training videos, and offering ongoing support as needed.
  4. Digitize old records: To fully transition to a digital evidence management system, it is important to digitize all existing records, such as video surveillance, physical inventory, evidence requests, interview room video, body camera footage, audio recordings, handwritten documents, vehicle cameras, mobile devices data, and security camera footage. This may involve scanning paper documents, photographs, and other physical evidence and uploading them to the new system. It may also involve manually inputting data from old records into the new system.
  5. Ensure proper storage: Digital evidence still needs to be stored in a secure and controlled environment, and it is important to ensure that the new system is set up to provide adequate protection for all evidence.
  6. Monitor and maintain: Once the new system is in place, it is important to monitor it regularly to ensure that it is functioning properly and that all staff members are using it correctly. It may also be necessary to make updates or modifications over time to ensure that the system remains effective and up-to-date with the latest technology.

By following these steps, law enforcement organizations can transition from manual documentation to a safer and more accurate digital evidence management system that reduces chain of custody issues and documents all evidence types to be easily accessed and used to build cases against suspects.

With all evidence at your fingertips instantly during a criminal investigation, law enforcement personnel will build stronger cases and bring closure to more victims’ families–even after decades of uncertainty.

Evaluation of Digital Evidence Management Systems

How To Evaluate Digital Evidence Management (DEMS) Systems for Law Enforcement Agencies?

Overview of Digital Evidence Storage in a Cloud-Based System

The #1 job of evidence management technology is to facilitate the automation of tracking and access to evidence in law enforcement agencies or federal agencies. According to Research.com, over 90% of public safety agencies agree that having a centralized evidence database is essential to gain insights and model processes, people, and assets.

Evidence management is critical to the outcome of criminal prosecutions. If it fails at any stage of collection, storage, tracking, or retrieving, then it can compromise the outcome of a prosecution.

Law enforcement officers need a cloud service provider to create an efficient evidence management system for audio files, body camera footage, digital paper files, compliance and security protocols and third-party evidence. Your digital evidence management solution will have a long lifespan. Before selecting a cloud solution provider for your police department, consider these 5 critical factors.

  1. Features and functionality. Know the types or categories of physical and digital evidence that will be collected, stored, analyzed, and reported on as required to meet typical law enforcement agencies’ needs. You want the capacity to share digital evidence assets with other law enforcement officials or agency personnel that meet security guidelines. And you want a way to make electronic copies and backup copies if your system should go down.
  2. Scalability. The system must be able to support growth in agency personnel, accommodate a variety of evidence typically handled by law enforcement, and manage the current volume of digital assets while being able to handle any increased collection in the future. In addition, to ensure a seamless flow of evidence management processes between law enforcement agencies, your digital evidence management system should be able to communicate with other client agencies. This includes the ability to seamlessly exchange data with other cloud services or legacy systems already in place at the organization or across different government entities such as federal agencies.
  3. Integration: The system must be compatible with other tools and systems, such as a centralized database or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, that law enforcement officials are currently using to ensure seamless integration. Additionally, the digital evidence management system should be easy to connect to the police department’s other technologies. It is important to have an accurate assessment of which systems must be connected in order to create an effective workflow for managing digital evidence. Additionally, organizations should ensure that their systems are adequately secured so that unauthorized access to the data is prevented.
  4. Data Integrity and Security. The evidence software must have security features to protect physical evidence, with tamper-proof and chain-of-custody documentation and tracking. It must be adequately secured in a cloud environment, in accordance with the requirements of Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) baseline security controls, as described by NIST SP 800-53 guidelines for Information Systems and Organizations.
  5. Cost: The total cost of ownership for evidence inventory software must include hardware, software, support, automatic audit trails, authorized user role assignments, and access level. Compare each vendor’s features and benefits to each one of the types of evidence you may document to ensure that law enforcement personnel and the agency get the best value for their investment.

By considering these factors in detail, an organization can make an informed decision about which digital evidence management software is the best fit.

Choosing the Right DEMS Provider

When selecting a vendor, it is important to consider the reliability and consistency of their support and frequency of updates. This is part of the success formula that leads to long-term ROI and agency success.

The cloud solution should be able to track and inventory digital and physical evidence to ensure proper documentation and organization of all evidence. As the number of cases and user role assignments increases, the cloud service provider must be able to handle increased evidence requests without experiencing performance issues.

Future Proofing Automation of Evidence Management

When organizations handle sensitive information, data must be protected from unauthorized access, alteration, and theft. Evidence managers must maintain a tamper-proof chain of custody, ensuring that evidence remains secure and can be used in court if necessary.

The best DEMS solution contains security features such as encryption and access controls. For example, encryption ensures that even if unauthorized users gain access to the data, they will not be able to read or understand it. 

Access controls restrict who has access to the data and what they can do with it, including the changing of user authentication and permissions. Tracking and auditing features, with logging and reporting help agencies detect and respond to any security incidents.

When developing an evidence management system, plan to “future proof” for the long term. This includes preparing to incorporate new technologies, such as body-worn cameras and license plate readers, and adapting to changing regulations or laws.

One essential factor to consider when comparing systems is the software’s ease of use. It should be intuitive and include a user-friendly interface and easy navigation, ensuring it is easy to find the information you need and quickly complete tasks. Ask your technology partner what features other law enforcement officials are requesting.

Software Designed for Police, not the IT Department

Preparing Users for Their New DEMS System

Ideally, your digital evidence management system must integrate seamlessly with other software the organization uses, such as existing case management or records management systems, databases, document management systems, and other software tools. A 360-view and access to all your data and workflows improves efficiency, reduces errors, and enhances the overall accuracy of information.

When evaluating DEMS, make a list of:

  • Other types of systems that should integrate with the evidence management system. Consider reviewing pieces of evidence in your last 10 active cases (including evidence like mobile devices, radio logs, digital files, video surveillance, handwritten documents, and other inventory of evidence collected).
  • The type of integration you require vs. what is offered, such as basic data import/transfer or more advanced features like bi-directional syncing.
  • The adaptability of each active user, the kind of integration each will need, and how much documentation and support each one will require
  • Each user’s current and future needs. For example, if a company plans to order a new case management system, be sure it can be integrated with your DEMS system.
  • Additional costs associated with custom integration.

Training

Training is an essential component of preparing users for their new digital evidence management system. Proper training makes users aware of the features and capabilities of the system so they use it with confidence. It also helps them understand the potential risks associated with the misuse of digital evidence assets, such as data breaches or unauthorized access.

Digital evidence management solution providers typically provide detailed user guides as well as tutorials to demonstrate how to correctly use the system. Organizations may opt to provide more in-depth training sessions with experienced software trainers who can answer questions and provide additional guidance on best practices. 

Such training should cover topics such as effective data management, secure storage methods, and other aspects related to utilizing evidence management systems. By providing comprehensive training for law enforcement personnel, organizations can kick off a heightened user adoption cementing a rapid ROI on the new DEMS system.

Part of evaluating your solution provider should be reviewing how thorough its user manuals, tutorials, and online help is to ensure all active users can quickly and easily learn how to use the system or have ready access to support when encountering issues.

Customer Support

In addition to training, support is an important factor in successful digital evidence management. Effective management of physical and digital evidence requires robust support and assistance from the software provider. 

Organizations must have access to reliable technical assistance to ensure that the system remains functional and secure. Vendors should be available to address any technical issues that may arise during the setup or use of the system, while users should also be able to contact a resource for help with navigating the software. 

Additionally, technology partners should provide support services for evidence requests or other questions related to digital evidence.

Many technology partners offer different levels of support, such as basic technical support or advanced consulting services. As a result, the cost of support services can vary significantly between different systems and should be factored into the overall cost when comparing options. 

Law enforcement budgets are not open-ended, but budgeting for help when you need it is what gives law enforcement organizations their highest ROI on their digital evidence management systems.

Customization

When selecting a vendor, consider what kind of customization you require:

  • How much customization comes with the system and how much more will you need to customize the user interface, add custom fields, and integrate with other cloud systems?
  • How easy will it be to customize, including whether technical expertise is required or if the system has a user-friendly interface? For example, can you customize field names with identifiers known to the department? Can you print reports you need?
  • How much will customization cost? Confirm how much is included in the standard package or if additional charges apply.
  • How much customization support does your vendor offer and what is their availability to adapt the system to your existing processes?

The vendor’s reputation and industry experience are key considerations when comparing evidence management software systems. This includes factors such as the length of time the vendor has been in business and the size and diversity of their customer base. How familiar are they with the agency’s investigative process, common evidence types, and the volume of digital assets collected?

Cost

When assessing evidence management software solutions, consider the total cost of ownership, which encompasses not only the initial cost of the software but also any additional costs for customization, integration, and support services. 

This includes digital evidence documentation, inventory, tracking, physical evidence documentation, inventory, and monitoring. There is typically a “law enforcement budget,” but there is always give and take when working with a technology partner.

Organizations should also consider factors such as the number of users and the storage required. In addition, some systems offer a one-time purchase option with a yearly maintenance fee, while others require a subscription or ongoing licensing payment. 

Finally, the buyer must factor in any additional costs for customization or integration with other systems, including costs associated with integrating the system with existing databases or other software, as well as the cost of tailoring the system to meet specific requirements or needs.

Conclusion

Your evidence management software should never hold you back from protecting public safety, solving cases, serving justice–or wondering if there was a break in the chain of evidence. See the latest technology for preserving evidence integrity by scheduling a 30-minute demo with ERIN Technology’s ERIN7.