The 6-18 month backlog at most RCFLs and state digital crime labs is forcing law enforcement and DA’s to consider alternatives to handle their growing need to analyze digital evidence. Private digital crime labs offer a compelling alternative to the RCFL or state lab with the ability to recover evidence from a wider range of devices and to deliver much faster turnaround times.
If you’re considering working with a private lab, here are a few suggestions to help you make the right choice for your department.
1) Lab Accreditations
Before you hire a private lab, you will obviously need to believe that they’re experts in the field of digital forensics. However, the question you should be asking is not whether YOU believe they’re experts but whether a COURT would believe they’re experts in the face of an adversarial cross-examination.
The most objective way to determine if a digital crime lab has institutional expertise is to look for 3rd party accreditations like those used by the FBI and state crime labs. The most well known of these accrediting bodies is the ASCLD/LAB International. This type of accreditation verifies that the lab follows procedures that produce accurate, consistent and reproducible findings. If you’re going to hire a private crime lab, you should consider such an accreditation as a minimum requirement.
2) Concise, Readable Reports
Expertise is obviously important, especially if a case goes to trial, but the ability to communicate a set of forensic findings clearly and concisely is almost more important. After all, not ever case goes to trial, but every case with digital evidence will have a forensic findings report. If a lab’s typical findings report can’t be easily understood by officers, detectives and attorneys then it has little value. Ask to see a few sample reports from prospective labs to see how clear and concise they actually are.
3) Budget Predictability and Flexibility
Cost is obviously a primary concern when hiring an outside lab. Rather than focusing on the hard dollar costs or an hourly rate, think about how you can structure an agreement that can give you a mix of predictability and flexibility. You’d like to fix the costs (predictability) and still have the ability to handle any of the wide range of digital devices your officers may encounter (flexibility). Some labs package their services in predefined “units” based on common device types so you can purchase a block of “units” and then use them in whatever combination you need.
4) Litigation Support
A final consideration is a lab’s ability to provide expert testimony via deposition or in court as necessary. While you may need this type of support only on occasion, it’s important to understand how well a lab can support and defend their analysis. Ask potential lab partners about their experience testifying in court and their availability to do so. You’ll also want to ask about the specific certifications that the examiners maintain. The accreditation of a lab is important to ensure consistency but if an examiner has to take the stand, you’ll also want to know that he or she has sufficient individual credentials as well.
If you’re considering hiring a private digital crime lab to support your department, contact Flashback Data. We work with law enforcement and DA’s around the country and are accredited under the same program as the FBI and state crime labs. We provide digital forensics services from pre-seizure planning through litigation, and offer a range of convenient packages that give you predictable costs and flexible service options.