Lawyers’ knowledge of, attitudes towards, and experience with digital evidence
There continues to be a rapid proliferation of technological advancements and continued increase in digital evidence. Digital evidence may be a vital part of a case; however, it is difficult to present a highly technical process to novice individuals Therefore, it is important to determine how courtroom actors understand digital evidence. The goal of this mixed method study was to investigate lawyers, both prosecutors and defense attorneys, attitudes towards, knowledge of, and experience with digital evidence. The current study followed an explanatory sequential design, which consisted of two phases. For phase one, snowball sampling was used to solicit participation in the online, anonymous survey which included questionnaires and open-ended questions. The final sample included 11 prosecutors and five defense attorneys. Results indicated there is no difference in prosecutors and defense attorneys’ knowledge of digital evidence. Overall, results indicated prosecutors have a higher opinion of digital evidence. In addition, based off moderate effect sizes, experience with digital evidence differed between prosecutors and defense attorneys. Prosecutors used digital evidence more at trial and in plea agreements compared to defense attorneys. Based off of the write-in responses, emerging themes suggested a lack of understanding of digital evidence by lawyers and judges, and prevalence of digital evidence with regards to type of data and amount of data. The goal of phase two was to further explore and explain the emerging themes from phase one. Phase two used purposeful sampling to recruit four lawyers (two prosecutors and two defense attorneys) who had experience with digital evidence. Results from the interviews confirmed findings from phase one regarding the prevalence of digital evidence and a lack of understanding of digital evidence. In addition, a lack of resources was identified, which included a lack digital evidence training for lawyers and judges. Although consistent with the samples of previous research, a main limitation of the current study is the sample size for both phase one and two. A small sample size withstanding, the current study was able to draw triangulated inferences based on the three strands of data collected using a mixed methods approach. The triangulated findings add to the validity and reliability of current study despite the small sample size. The current study found lawyers are concerned the jury does not understand digital evidence and also puts too much weight on such evidence. Therefore, future research should examine jurors’ understanding of digital evidence and the weight of digital evidence in their decision-making. There is also a need to investigate why judges are falling behind in the understanding of digital evidence. Also, the development, implementation, and evaluation of digital evidence training for prosecutors and defense attorneys is needed to ensure both groups understand digital evidence. Additionally, future research should examine if more trainings and a better understanding of digital evidence effect attorneys’ opinions and attitudes toward digital evidence and then ultimately the use of such evidence.