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Just Science Podcast: Just Digital Evidence in the Courts of Appeals

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2020
1 page

This third episode in the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ's) Just Science podcast series is an interview with Martin Novak, a Senior Computer Scientist with the National Institute of Justice, who discusses the presentation of digital evidence in U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals.


Background information for the interview notes that digital evidence can identify suspects, win acquittals, and obtain convictions. Digital evidence can be obtained from cars, smart homes, cell phones, personal computers, or a number of other devices that access and store digital data. This enables analysts to collect a significant amount of data in criminal investigations. Martin Novak is currently studying the application of digital evidence in the courtroom. In this interview, he discusses case studies, his current research goals, and the role of digital evidence in cases heard by the 11 U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals. He notes that most information on courts' response to digital evidence is anecdotal. Novak's research, on the other hand, involved retrieving appellate court cases based on various terms related to digital evidence, such as the mention of devices that normally house digital evidence. Out of a database of thousands of cases processed by a U.S. Court of Appeals, only 145 cases qualified as having involved issues of digital evidence in the appeal. Most of these cases involved the possession and/or distribution of child pornography. The issues raised in the appeals regarding digital evidence included inclusion of digital data devices in the search warrant, the relation of the digital evidence to the crime of conviction, whether the defendant used or was responsible for creating or accessing the digital evidence, the reliability of the software that accessed the digital data presented in court, and the expertise of the investigator in the use of that software.

Date Published: July 1, 2020