Technology can be a tool for abuse. But, if you’re savvy, it can also be a great tool for evidence preservation.1 Take the opportunity to turn every harassing email, text, phone call, and website into an exhibit that can be presented as evidence in court, if needed. Here are some ways to preserve evidence:
- Save the webpages as PDFs.
- Take screenshots of the pages (and make sure to get the whole page, including the URL and time and date).
- Print the pages out and store them securely.
- If the content in question is a video, be sure to download the entire video to a secure hard drive.
- If you have text messages or email that may be relevant, make sure you save copies of all the messages that might be relevant in a reliable manner.
- Consider Whether To Include A Litigation Hold Request. If you might need evidence from intermediaries — like websites and email service providers — to unmask an anonymous defendant, you need to ask those online service providers to save that evidence for later use.
When preserving evidence, do not just preserve evidence that you believe is favorable to you - preserve all evidence that may be relevant to a dispute, including email, text messages, correspondence, documents, photographs, videos, etc. Failure to properly preserve all the evidence — even if you believe it may be negative or unfavorable to you — may result in sanctions or adverse findings against you by a court.
For evidence you plan to present in support of your complaint, we recommend that you save: (1) a digital copy to a computer file; and (2) a printout to a binder. Take the binder with you when you go to your local police precinct, domestic violence clinic, or family court self-help center to file papers. Your printouts can then be attached to a police report or an application for a restraining order. The more organized you are, the greater the likelihood that law enforcement, restraining order clinics, online platforms, and prospective legal counsel will be able to help you.
Further reading: Josh Gilliland, The Admissibility of Social Media Evidence, American Bar Association (Winter 2013), http://www.americanbar.org/publications/litigation_journal/2012_13/winte..., archived at perma.cc/MS7G-L5NK.
See Protecting Domestic Violence Survivors and Children in California: Pro Bono Representation in Low-Income Domestic Violence Restraining Order Cases 2015 (Free), Domestic Violence 101 and Client Interview, Practicing Law Institute (June 2015), http://pli.edu/Content/OnDemand/Protecting_Domestic_Violence_Survivors_a..., archived at perma.cc/JK8E-VR2D. ↩