(OBSERVER)Witness testimony from a cyber forensic investigator was the highlight of yesterday’s second day of the Commissioner of Police versus Washington Bramble trial in the St John’s Magistrates Court.
In the trial which got underway on Monday, the defendant Washington Bramble is accused of making remarks about Antigua and Barbuda’s Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh via Facebook posts last year, for the purpose of insulting, intimidating, causing hatred and causing enmity.
Bramble was hit with the four charges under the country’s Electronic Crimes Act in August last year – within six months of allegedly making the remarks – but maintains her innocence, and is representing herself in the trial in a bid to prove that.
Following testimonies on Monday from witnesses including police personnel and the Chief Magistrate herself, a sergeant assigned to the Regional Cyber Investigations Laboratory took the stand, testifying to information extracted from a number of electronic devices relating to the case.
The sergeant said that on March 1 last year, two mobile devices were brought and submitted to the laboratory “in relation to a cybercrimes investigation”.
The devices are said to be owned by Everdeen Parker and Thais Luke – two clerks said to work with the Chief Magistrate.
According to the sergeant – who revealed that she is a “certified physical and logical Cellebrite examiner” – they were examined via search warrants with the consent of both persons, to extract WhatsApp messages concerned with Facebook posts bearing the name Washington Bramble against the Chief Magistrate.
The court later heard that the extracted material was in the form of screenshots and photos of the devices.
The sergeant told the court that the examinations were completed and the result of the extractions printed in report form, with a copy given to the police corporal who submitted them initially and a copy kept by herself.
At that point, Bramble objected to the report being entered into evidence, but was told by Magistrate Dane Hamilton Jr that that was not the case, as the evidence was only being ‘marked for identification’ – a term referring to items being assigned an identifying number or letter for the purpose of organising potential exhibits in a trial that have not yet been entered into evidence, per Cornell Law School.
The defendant – who, again, is representing herself – continued to argue that the report should not even be considered to be entered as evidence, as it does not contain any information from her own devices, as the person who is accused of making the posts in question.
She went on to claim that there was no apparent use of the Cellebrite technology based on the content of the report, before saying the police “need to come better than this” and suggesting that an independent digital forensic investigator may need to examine the evidence.
The prosecutor, however, pointed to the R v Sang appeal decision of 1979 to support her argument that the extraction report is indeed admissible evidence, as it displays the posts the defendant is being accused of making, in the format that they were viewed by the virtual complainant, Walsh.
She added that it would be unacceptable if the court were to accept the defendant’s suggestion that the only way to verify the posts is through the defendant’s own device, in the context of arguing relevance of evidence.
The defendant then responded to that submission from the prosecutor, quipping that she “appears inexperienced in these sorts of cases”, before pointing to the United States v Wagner 2022 in her argument that there is no way to prove, using screenshots, that the post was actually made by herself, the accused.
She then strongly objected to the screenshots within the report being entered into evidence.
The magistrate, having perused the precedent raised by Bramble, noted that – while the two cases are similar – decisions made in the US legal system are persuasive, but not binding to Commonwealth courts.
He further noted that the Federal Rules of Evidence utilised in the US system are not applicable to Antigua and Barbuda, and explained that the court is constrained to apply rules as relevant in Commonwealth law and Antiguan and Barbudan law – via the Evidence Act, the Electronic Evidence Act, and the Evidence (Special Provisions) Act.
Hamilton Jr went on to state that the evidence is indeed relevant to the facts in issue, which include whether posts were made, as the evidence shows that posts were made and viewed by witnesses, who brought them to the attention of the virtual complainant.
He also assured the defendant that when the time comes for the evidence to actually be entered, she can, again, object.
The sergeant then shared details with the court about the examination of the devices, which revealed WhatsApp conversations between said devices and a number belonging to Walsh.
She shared too that devices owned by “Washington Bramble of Hatton” were also submitted to the cyber lab for analysis, but said they were not examined as one had a damaged port, one was unresponsive when plugged in and one was pin-protected.
In her cross-examination, Bramble questioned the sergeant’s certification in forensic cyber analysis, before inquiring about the devices, owned by her, that were submitted for examination.
The sergeant repeated that only one of said devices could be powered on, but couldn’t be examined as it was pin-protected.
Shortly after, the trial was adjourned until 1pm today.