Why a Cell Phone Can Be the Most Important Piece of Evidence in a Criminal Case

Hands holding smartphone in the dark

Cell phones are an important part of our daily lives. They provide a means by which we can easily communicate with others, whether by text, voice, or email. They allow us to capture pictures and videos of what is occurring around us. Cell phones permit us to store and keep track of important information. They even give us the power to research the unknown.

Some may not know that cell phones also track our every movement. Every time a cell phone connects to a cell site, it generates a time-stamped record known as cell-site location information (“CSLI”). Wireless carriers collect and store this information for their own business purposes. CSLI is like having a personal GPS that tracks your every movement.

Cell phones have drastically changed the dynamic of criminal cases – both on the prosecution side as well as the defense side. Cell phone videos and recordings can contradict witness statements. Internet search history can establish a motive. Call records can refute allegations.

Arguably, the most important piece of evidence derived from a cell phone is CSLI. CSLI records generally have a time-stamp that corresponds with specific latitude and longitude coordinates. With certain technology, that record can pinpoint a person’s location at a particular time. A person’s movement can also be tracked by looking at how the CSLI changed as time passed. Some CSLI records will also show a level or degree of accuracy. These records can place a cell phone within a particular distance from the cell tower.

CSLI offers very persuasive evidence of a person’s location at a specific time. If a person is accused of robbing a bank at 9:00 a.m., but CSLI from her cell phone shows that she was 50 miles away at the same time, then that would be exculpatory evidence that could be used at trial.

Generally, an expert witness is required to interpret and explain the complexities of CSLI. At The Moore Law Firm, we have used those resources in the past with great success.