First Ever Digital Forensics Lab for Dallas County DA

In November, the Dallas County (Tex.) District Attorney’s Office became the first DA’s office to open a digital forensics lab in North Texas. This lab focuses exclusively on digital technology, including analyzing cell phones, computers, digital video recorders, and other digital media. Dallas DA staff members are also certified in financial forensics to assist prosecutors with cases involving digital technology as evidence.


In the past, the FBI and U.S. Secret Service labs were the only places with the expertise to process digital evidence for all North Texas law enforcement agencies. Reliance on these two labs created a backlog, and slowed progress on a number of cases. “Numerous times prosecutors had to reset cases for trial because the forensic examinations on the evidence had not been conducted, essentially costing the county and tax payers money,” said Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. “The new digital forensics lab housed in the Dallas DA’s office will help expedite the process of getting cases to trial, getting the accused to take responsibility, or even exonerating the wrongfully convicted.”

A wide variety of crimes committed today involve some type of digital evidence. For example, instead of meeting up to talk with accomplices and circling a location on a map prior to committing a burglary, criminals may now Google the address, evaluate the house online, input the address in their car’s GPS system, and text accomplices while gearing up to carry out the burglary. The latter example includes multiple digital nuggets of information that prosecutors would need to evaluate all possible evidence in a crime.

Evidence obtained from digital forensics can have a profound impact on the outcome of cases. DA Watkins said, “Sometimes what we find can actually prove that someone was innocent.” Prosecutors can prove alibis through the vast amounts of digital crumbs left throughout a person’s day. A credit card used while shopping, video captured on surveillance systems, as well as posts made to social media all leave a digital trail.”

Specialists in the digital forensics lab are an extension of the Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force, which trained Dallas DA investigators extensively at the National Computer Forensics Institute. DA investigator Edith Santos, a certified computer forensic examiner, has processed 31 cases this year and 10,353 gigabytes of data—the equivalent of 292 semi-trucks full of paper. The Dallas DA forensic unit will train continuously with the U.S. Secret Service to keep up with the changing technology, as criminals continue to get more tech-savvy to commit crimes.

Source: Dallas County District Attorney’s Office

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Item of Interest

The language barrier between English-speaking investigators and Spanish-speaking witnesses is a growing problem. (Updated 28 February 2011)