Any law enforcement agency operating in the WNYRCFL's service area can request assistance with the following activities—
- Pre-Seizure Consultation —The WNYRCFL can assist with search warrant preparation (only as it applies to digital evidence) by advising on related language that may be included in the affidavit.
- On-Site Seizure and Collection—Requests for this type of assistance should be made a minimum of 48 hours in advance (the more lead time the better) by submitting a completed Service Request form to the WNYRCFL. On occasion, an agency will uncover digital evidence that they are unprepared to manage. Under these circumstances, the advance notice requirement is waived. Once the WNYRCFL evaluates the search request, the Operations Manager assigns it to an Examiner for action.
- Duplication, Storage and Preservation of Electronic Equipment and other Digital Evidence—Examinations are typically conducted on copies of the original evidence. Therefore, WNYRCFL Examiners can either duplicate (or copy the information) the media on-site, or they will bring the electronic equipment to the laboratory where they will duplicate the media and perform the examination.
- Prompt, Accurate, and Impartial Examinations of Digitally Stored Media—WNYRCFL Examiners are trained to conduct a thorough and objective examination of an electronic device to locate digital evidence and turn it into something that the investigator can review. It is not the Examiner's responsibility to analyze the data for its meaning or significance to the investigation. This impartiality and objectivity lends credibility to both their findings and subsequent court testimony.
- Courtroom Testimony —As records are recovered from seized digital evidence, the prosecutor is likely to direct the Examiner to introduce the computer or digital evidence into court. As an expert witness, the Examiner explains under oath, how they conducted the examination and what they discovered as a result.
When requesting assistance, the law enforcement agency should first contact the WNYRCFL to discuss the request, and then carefully complete one of the following forms or letters—
- Request Letter —The requesting agency should write a letter on their stationary that explains the nature of the request. The letter must contain a supervising agent's signature, and can accompany either the Service Request Form or the Evidence Custody Form.
- Service Request Form —Requests for on-site assistance are accepted on a case-by-case basis from any law enforcement agency in the WNYRCFL's service area. The WNYRCFL prioritizes each request according to the nature of the crime and uses the Service Request form to monitor and track cases.
Shipping Digital Evidence
If evidence is being shipped to the laboratory, please contact the WNYRCFL for specific instructions regarding submittal procedures. For most examinations, submit only the central processing units and the internal and external storage media, and remember to:
- Use a sturdy cardboard container when shipping computer components. If possible, use the original packing case with the fitted padding. Use large, plastic bubble wrap or foam rubber pads as packing and never use styrofoam because it lodges inside computers and/or components and creates static charges that can cause data loss or damage to circuit boards. Seal the box with strong packing tape.
- Pack and ship central processing units in the upright position. Label the outside container THIS END UP .
Secure loose media such as disks, cartridges, tapes, hard drives, etc., to avoid movement during shipping.
Tips for Law Enforcement
When Submitting a Service Request form —The case agent or officer should be as concise and thorough as possible. These forms are used to make decisions about the request, therefore, any vague or ambiguous terminology may make it more difficult to interpret or understand what services are needed. As a result, this could slow down the processing of the request.
Turning On or Accessing a Computer—Indicate on the Service Request form, if you or anyone else in the chain of custody attempted to turn on or access the computer prior to submitting it to the WNYRCFL. This is very important information for the Examiners to have.
Search Warrants—If a service request is pursuant to a search warrant, a copy of the warrant must be included with the Service Request form. Likewise, if the service request is a result of a consensual search, a copy of the agency's "consent for search" form must be included. Failure to include this documentation will more than likely cause a delay in processing the request.
Handling Sensitive Equipment—Always use extreme caution or take precautionary measures such as grounding the static electricity before touching any of the internal components of the computer or handling sensitive computer equipment. For example, if the internal workings of a computer are exposed, the equipment could be damaged by a buildup of static electricity that is held by the human body. (Walking across a rug can produce a static electricity voltage of up to 12,000 volts.) The hard drive is especially susceptible to static electricity, even if it is exposed to a small amount of voltage, while a microchip can be damaged with as little as 500 volts of static electricity. If you're unsure about how to handle the equipment, then it is best to defer to a professional.
To learn more about working with an RCFL, read the "Examination Best Practices" fact sheet.