A New Jersey appeals court this week held that there was nothing wrong with prosecutors using satellite photos via Google Earth to show the proximity of an accused to the crime scene. The ruling which involves State in the Interest of JB, a Minor could lay the foundation for more widespread use of images sourced from Google Earth in criminal trials.
JB was an accused juvenile delinquent, charged with burglary, who claimed that he had been riding around with friends on the night of the burglary. He said he had returned home at about 11 pm, and did not go out again. His two friends however, had a different story to tell. They claim that he accompanied them to a break-in at another friend’s house, where they stole a laptop computer and some other things. They alleged that JB returned back home at about 3 AM after the burglary.
During the trial, the prosecution tried to shatter JB's alibi by pointing to calls made from his cell phone around the time of the burglary. According to cell phone records, the calls went through a tower located close to the house that was burgled. If JB had indeed been at home, the calls would've been routed through a cell phone tower close to his home. In order to establish the proximity of the cell phone tower to the crime scene, prosecutors used an atlas, and then images from Google Earth. Defense lawyers for JB objected, based on the unreliability of images from Google Earth.
A panel of appellate judges has now upheld that there is nothing wrong with prosecutors using images from the global mapping service in order to give evidence of JB's location at the time of the burglary.
As New Jersey criminal defense lawyers, we believe a decision like this could open the floodgates for more widespread use of Google Earth images during criminal trials in New Jersey. This is in spite of the fact that Google Earth is far from a completely reliable source of pictorial information. There are pitfalls in the use of this technology that persons charged with offenses in New Jersey need to be aware of.
If you have been charged with a crime and have questions, contact a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer at our law firm.