n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Detecting invisible traces generated by a cellphone at a crime scene

Volume 27, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Observations made by the authors of this article, suggest that investigators in South Africa may possibly be conditioned by tradition to limit their search for physical clues or traces to a crime scene and not to consider the use of new investigative approaches to find traces that are recorded at a remote location from the crime scene. The type of evidence presented in court cases also suggest that investigators focus exclusively on the Locard Principle or Contact Theory - traces left behind at a crime scene due to physical contact between objects and people at the scene. These observations suggest that the traditional concept of the Locard Principle is so strictly adhered to that it constrains the investigator who wants to think innovatively. For example conceptualising other places where traces of contact may be found. The objective of this article is to explore the concept of modern criminal investigation with regard to cellphone technology and critically analyse the relevancy of the Locard Principle regarding traces left by cellphones that were found at a crime scene. The article, furthermore, examines that the Lochner Principle determines that even though a cellphone signal might be present as a trace at a crime scene, proof of the signal can only be found on the electronic database of the cellphone service provider, which is kept at a location some distance from the crime scene. A discussion of the two principles and practical examples show how traces are left behind in terms of Locard's principle and the effect that the application of both these principles would have had on recent criminal cases. The authors further postulate, as a second focus point in the article, that data automatically generated by the cellphone on the computer server other than when a call or text messages is made, can be used as additional data to determine the location of a cellphone at a crime scene. The article, therefore, aims to provide additional dimensions to be considered when thinking about the detection of traces according to the Locard Principle. The data is based on a review of current literature and applied research on how cellphone technology can be used by investigators. The analysis of the data, among others, is done in the context of the authors' experience as academics and former investigators and contains an element of action research.

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Article metrics loading...


This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error