The highly publicized Kevin Spacey trial concluded last week with prosecutors dropping all charges against the actor.
Spacey faced criminal charges of indecent assault and battery in an accusation that the actor groped a young man at a Nantucket bar in 2016. Text messages and videos were presented by the accused to corroborate the claim and ultimately resulted in felony charges brought against Spacey.
During pre-trial hearings, it was determined the mother of the accuser had deleted pertinent information from the cell phone prior to a forensic examination being performed by the police. A voluntary admission from the mother allowed the defense team direct access to the accuser’s phone contents to examine the device for deleted messages. When attempting to retrieve the phone from the prosecution, it was pronounced “irretrievably lost” and not able to be turned over. The accuser’s family alleged they could not remember if the police department had ever returned the phone after the examination. When questioned, it was discovered the police department responsible for the examination did not maintain a chain of custody form documenting the change of possession and had no signature to verify the return of the device to the accuser’s family.
Without access to the physical device, defense attorneys compared the forensic report to the screenshots of the messages that assisted in the felony charges brought against Spacey. A comparison concluded that important parts of the conversation were deleted before the phone was turned over to investigators.
During the accuser’s testimony, he was asked directly if he was aware it was a crime to delete evidentiary data from a device in a criminal trial. The accuser’s response stated that he was not aware of that. A short recess followed, after which the accuser decided to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights to protect against self-incrimination and subsequently declined to give any further testimony. Nantucket District Court Judge Thomas Barrett stated he was unsure how the case would continue without testimony from the key witness.
Dealing with a crumbling case, prosecution attorneys decided to drop all charges against Spacey last week. Some very important topics in digital forensics and proper evidence handling arose from this story. Not maintaining a proper chain of custody form and evidence tampering highlight the importance of using best practices and applying proper documentation when handling electronic evidence. This is how cases involving digital forensics are lost and won.
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