Criminal Evidentiary Issues
Issues With Triangulation
In today’s courtrooms, a new technology called triangulation is being used to determine a cell user’s location — and it has erroneously convicted people who have been arrested for alleged crimes. The technology has been debunked, ridiculed and discredited; yet, it is still allowed as admissible in court.
If you or a loved one is facing government allegations of wrongdoing, and the prosecution is attempting to “place you at the scene” with triangulation evidence, you need an attorney experienced and aggressive enough to challenge triangulation as viable evidence.
Call Rush & Gransee, L.C., today at 210-223-9200 to arrange a consultation to discuss your case and how triangulation can be challenged in your situation.
Triangulation’s Misleading and Inconclusive Findings and How it is Used in Court
Triangulation is the theory that a cellphone user’s exact location can be determined, based on the data from three cellphone towers. Each tower covers a certain area, and each tower has a limited range of coverage. When a person makes a call, that call might be detected by the three closest cellphone towers. The coverage area from those three cellphone towers will overlap, the overlapped area is supposedly where the person, or alleged criminal, is located. It sounds good and convincing, but this is not the whole story. This “junk science” which can be discredited, happens to be a field of study with which many people and too many defense attorneys are unfamiliar.
There are many variables which make triangulation unreliable. First, the technology only allows a “guesstimate.” The area where the coverage of the three cellphone towers intersect can be quite large or quite small. This depends on whether or not the caller is in a rural or urban area. Rural areas will have fewer towers, and urban areas will have more towers, so the accuracy of triangulation depends on what part of the city or state or country a caller is in. Coverage is not standardized throughout the regions.
Second, a technique which has enabled cellphone service to improve in some areas, is a concept called “handing-off.” For instance, when a large group of people are gathered together in a small area, such as when cars are stacked up, bumper to bumper during rush hour traffic or in a dense urban area, cellphone towers might get over loaded or overworked, because many people in a small area are using their cellphones. So, in order to avoid dropping calls, phone companies have it set up to where calls or signals will be “handed off” to other towers, in order to lighten the load. These towers which the calls are handed off to are usually farther off than the tower which should handle the call. If this happens, if a call is “handed off” to another tower, this decreases the accuracy of triangulation information, because it increases the intersection of the coverage area.
Triangulation is by no means “indisputable evidence.” It is by no means “conclusive” that a person was at a location indicated by triangulation and it is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a person’s location at a set time, and it is definitively proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a person’s guilt in allegedly committing a crime. But despite this inconsistent data, courts are continuing to allow the evidence of triangulation, and some defense attorneys are failing to refute this junk science, which could lead to a wrongful conviction.
The mistake many people make is thinking that triangulation and GPS are the same thing. They are not the same thing, and they are not based on the same technology. GPS is much more accurate than triangulation, though GPS is still not 100 percent accurate, as many of us who have been lead astray by Google Maps can confirm.