Eyewitness testimony is the weakest evidence an investigator can collect. The vessel that contains this evidence is subject to illness, death, corruption, and a myriad of defects that compromise the evidence. Being a trained investigator does not make you immune to all these weaknesses.
How we access and share information and how we communicate has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. This evolving technology is changing how we conduct investigations. It is changing how we observe criminal activity. The number sources of evidence available in some investigations have become overwhelming.
The Investigator as an Internet Eyewitness
The key to believable evidence gathered from the Internet is that it is visual, understandable, and could be reproduced if someone else did it at the same time as when it was originally collected.
When I review an investigation, I apply these criteria to determine if it was done by an expert or a bodger.
Investigators are taking on the role of eyewitness by observing evidence that might not be visible to any other available investigator as it appears only momentarily in internet venues. To be a reliable eyewitness, the investigator needs to create a record of what he or she sees at any particular point in time. This must be done in the same manner as handwritten notes. However, these records must provide a visual representation of the evidence collected. With Investigative Internet Research, the computer’s camera and mic, along with software that records screen activity, become the investigator’s notebook.
Typically, screenshots combined with written eyewitness reports, are used to record what an investigator observes in social media and other internet sites. However, screenshots and written reports do not provide a full representation of the research process or the evidence uncovered.
Twenty pages of social media content along with text detailing each screenshot is time consuming to produce and mind-numbing for a Judge or jury to endure. The Judge and jury need an eyewitness to tell them what happened and to illustrate why they should believe this evidence.
As with any eyewitness testimony, two corroborating witnesses are much better than one. The second eyewitness improves the credibility of the evidence presented in the courtroom. The consistency of the eyewitness testimony needs to be established through documentation as would be done with traditional witness statements given at different times to police before trial.
Follow the Script
Wherever possible, rehearse the visual, logical, and reproducible nature of the witness testimony to produce a clean copy of the investigators’ witness testimony. Don’t be afraid to script the testimony. Don’t be afraid to admit scripting the recorded testimony. Explain, if asked, that the recorded collection process is just a representation of what you did without any irrelevant material or wasted time. Explain that the recorded collection process is what really happened as it happened.
The hallmark of a good report is that it looks organised and complete without being over crowded with text and other material. The recorded testimony of the investigators must also be organised and complete without any extraneous content. Sometimes, accomplishing this requires scripting and rehearsal.
The investigator’s recorded process of collection must present the page as he saw it and the viewer must see and hear the investigator as he goes through the collection process. Just because you did this before and scripted the presentation of your collection process does not make the recorded content any less valid.
Above all else, be logical. The collection process must proceed in a straight line from a clearly explained starting point to the next logical point. Continue in like fashion until you reach a logical conclusion.
Explain the logic and connections in the accompanying report. Your report will probably need elements from PowerPoint, screen shots, images, graphs, etc. to accomplish this. Use visual aids to make connections and illustrate logic!
Explain how you got there. Explain what you saw. Explain the importance of what you found. Explain material that meets the elements of the offence or supports the continuation of the offence in some way.
The viewer must see and hear the second investigator doing the same thing as the first investigator. The viewer must see the second investigator collect the same material as the first one. Doing this will require some scripting and rehearsal.
Some situations happen too fast to allow scripting and rehearsal. In that case, you will have to use the raw recording of the IIR that captured the evidence. Even if you are creating a scripted and rhearsed presentation of the collected evidence, you should have a recording of the original IIR collection effort.