Microbes on Cellphones May Help Investigators Profile or Narrow Suspects

Over the last few years, the importance of cellphones and technology as it relates to the criminal justice system has skyrocketed. Specifically, the connection between our phones, geolocation software, and information gathered by our cell phones and apps have aided in determining whether or not a criminal defendant may be innocent or guilty. For example, registering where a phone has been may help to demonstrate that a criminal defendant was (or was not) at the scene of the crime at the time a crime was committed. However, science has helped us to determine not only the information and data acquired on and through our phones but also scrubbing the microbes off the phone may help to identify the cell phone user, or more specifically, the traits and lifestyle choices of the user.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for committing a criminal offense, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.

The Study on Mass Spectrometry

According to a recent study, Lifestyle Chemistries from Phones for Individual Profiling, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, personal belongs such as cellphones can harbor chemical traces and DNA which can provide information on the lifestyle choices of the cellphone owner. The chemical traces can show the lifestyle habits of the owner/user such as hygiene or beauty regimen, diet, medical conditions, medicines the user is taking, and even the places the user has taken the cellphone. Though it is interesting that we can learn the habits of the cell phone user, the application of the results to a criminal investigation may help to lead investigators in the profiling or narrowing down a possible suspect. The technique used to analysis the cellphones is known as mass spectrometry, which sorts molecules based on mass and electric charge and then comparing this information to a compiled chemical database.

The Implications of This Study in the Criminal Justice System

This evidence could be helpful to investigators to not only narrow down and profile suspects during the investigation of a crime but might also serve as compelling evidence in a criminal proceeding against a criminal defendant who may have been identified, in whole or in part, based on these traits.

Florida’s Evidence Code and Mass Spectrometry as Evidence

Evidence in a criminal proceeding may be in the form of direct evidence or testimonial evidence, and are governed by the Florida Evidence Code. The Florida Evidence Code details the rules and restrictions of the type of evidence that is permissible and the reasons why certain evidence may not be introduced, especially if the evidence is not relevant, not material, or is prejudicial.

The type of information that could be found on a suspect’s phone might not be admissible or subject to limitation because the traits or information only relates to the user of the phone which may be different from the owner. For example, the owner of a cellphone may share the phone with a stranger or another user who may have a genetic composition (or has lifestyle indicators) different from the owner of the phone. The mass spectrometry only evaluates the microbes that are present and ready to be evaluated irrespective of the actual owner of the phone. Though the trace markings may be predominantly from the owner, any additional user’s DNA may still be left on the phone, even if the use was intermittent or infrequent. It may be only a matter of time before technology can resolve some of these reliability issues.

Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.