Criminal activities worry every society, and the first line of defense against these transgressions is the law enforcement agencies such as the police. Equipped with the mandate to control and investigate wrongdoings, the police need evidence (Physical, Analog, or Digital) to prove the crime in a court of law.
This raises another concern on behalf of the public; for how long the police can hold evidence without charges?
The important practices police must follow while seizing digital evidence primarily comprise of ensuring proper collection of evidence, preventing data manipulation and preserving digital evidence.
Let us look at how long can police hold evidence without charges, and some of the reasons why such agencies seize evidence.
Common Conditions of Seizing Evidence
1. Safe Keeping
Whenever under arrest, the police may seize all your possessions for the sake of their safety and to avoid any sort of theft. This can be done during traffic arrest, House Arrest, or even Private persons’ arrest. In such a scenario, the belongings under police hold are returned after the inquiry is over.
Let’s say the police take you and your vehicle into custody for a traffic violation, they may hold your mobile phone, laptop, and even the recordings of your dashcams in their possession to keep them safe and avoid security breaches.
This condition occurs if someone has been accused of helping any crime to take place or their possessions have been used to commit the crime or if their property has an illegal source of finance.
According to the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, in such a situation, the evidence is seized, held, and disposed of if the connection has been established with the crime. The proceeds of the disposed of property are gathered in the Asset Forfeiture Fund.
To read more about Asset Disposal and its usage, Visit: Asset Forfeiture Fund.
This situation does not require any connection with the crime because contraband items are already considered illegal and hence, can be detained by law permanently unless proven otherwise.
An example of this can be if the police, during the investigation, found your electronic devices such as laptops, CCTV, Mobile Phones or any other digital possession to be illegal, smuggled or in any form involved in a major crime, they can seize it permanently.
4. Physical and Digital Evidence
In this scenario, the items kept will be used to investigate and prove the crime in a court of law. The attorney requests the evidence, and the police must produce it in time.
Such items, which are to be used as evidence, are held with the police till the case is over, or the statute of limitation expires.
For example, if an incident under investigation has some linkage with footage from CCTV, dashcams, smartphones, and other devices or if these devices can play a role as evidence, then they will be kept in custody until the statute of limitations is over.
Laws for holding evidence without charges
So, how long can police hold evidence without charges being pressed on them? There are some time limitations for detaining the evidence, even without charges. According to US federal law under Section 3282 Code 18, the applicable statute of limitations for most crimes is 5 years. Some crimes have statute of limitations exceeding 5 years, some of which are as follows:
6-Years for Evading federal income taxes.
6-Years for not filing tax returns with the IRS.
7-Years for fraud exceeding $1 million, which involves the federal govt.
10 years for Arson, embezzling money from federal accounts and using fake citizenship documents.
But there are some exceptions regarding heinous crimes, primarily those of a profoundly serious nature, such as murder or sexual assault charges for which there is no statute of limitations.
The laws for statute of limitations for all 50 states of the US are different and can be found here: State Statute of Limitations
How to Optimize the Investigation Process
But now there is a question!!
Is there a way by which Police can speed up the overall process of evidence collection, storage, investigation, and analysis and then return the evidence back to the accused, especially if the evidence is in digital form?
To answer this, we would first have to understand the problems faced by Police and other Law Enforcement Agencies in handling such evidence.
According to a research report sponsored by National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the following are the major problems that are faced by LEAs:
To secure digital evidence, to preserve the chain of custody and later admissibility in court.
Extraction and analysis in accordance with the law and by using up-to-date tools.
Lack of tools to represent complex data sets in understandable ways for investigation and presentation.
Storage of large data sets in an organized manner.
Source: The Guardian
Tools for Effective Evidence Management
To solve these problems, LEAs need a Digital Evidence Management System designed to cater to law enforcement and public safety needs.
VIDIZMO Digital Evidence Management System is a comprehensive software used by some of the largest Law Enforcement Agencies, counties, government agencies and more worldwide.
VIDIZMO DEMS (Digital Evidence Management System) allows LEAs to ingest, store, secure, process and share digital evidence without compromising security and ensuring the chain of command. Let us look at how this system helps solve the problems we discussed earlier.
To learn more, visit Digital Evidence Management System: An Ultimate Guide.
Data Ingestion and Upload
The ideal evidence management solution allows ingesting and uploading of data from diverse sources such as mobile phones, laptops, CCTV, body-worn cams, dashcams, drones and many more. It eases the problem of data uploads through a centralized mechanism.
Digital Evidence Storage
Once the data has been uploaded, another challenge is its storage. Law enforcement agencies (LEA) do not have a proper storage infrastructure to store large data sets. To cater to this need, the digital evidence management system can store data on cloud storage, such as those provided by Microsoft Azure or AWS, and on-premises.
Digital Evidence Security
The digital evidence management system will also address the challenge of data security. The system will allow end-to-end encryption of the data files and password protection.
Access to the files can also be limited to the individuals working on the specific cases, and that too with a specified role for every individual i.e., some individuals may only see the information. At the same time, some could edit it as well.
Furthermore, it also establishes the chain of custody of the evidence. Thus, making it valid in a court of law.
Digital evidence management software allows to archive the data and access it at any time through an advanced search mechanism where the user can find the key information through AI-Powered search capabilities. This feature enhances digital evidence management and accelerates the investigation process.
Another key feature that good digital evidence management software offers is purging evidence. Purging is the process of permanently deleting the evidence from the entire database to secure sensitive information.
Digital Evidence Management Systems offer LEAs to manually purge the data or set a time limit to delete the specified evidence from the entire database permanently.
Evidence is key to hunting down criminals, but it is tedious to hold, share, analyze and disclose the evidence in the most secure manner. This process, if conducted in the most traditional manner, can take ages to close a complicated case.
Hence, a comprehensive, state-of-the-art digital evidence management solution such as VIDIZMO DEMS is a 21st-century solution to reduce lags in cases and help Law Enforcement Agencies hold the evidence for as minimum time as possible.
Feel free to test out VIDIZMO DEMS yourself by requesting a free trial here!