Last year, Morgan Kipper was booked on charges of stealing cars and reselling their parts. He declared his innocence, but his cellphone screensaver pictured Mr. Kipper behind the wheel of a stolen yellow Ferrari. Kipper joined a growing group of camera-phone owners who can't resist showing themselves breaking the law. "As a criminal defense attorney, it's very difficult when a client proclaims his innocence but incriminates himself by taking photos of the stolen items," says William Korman, the attorney who represented Kipper.
Cellphones, which often contain personal information like contact lists and call histories, have long served as a valuable police tool in criminal investigations. But the spread of built-in cameras is providing investigators with new ammunition, thanks to simple human behavior. Even criminals like taking photos of themselves, and the result in many police precincts is an unexpected windfall. In Nashua, N.H., one prosecutor estimates that cellphone photos provide useful evidence 40 or 50 times a year.
"We pray for those kinds of cases," says Debra Collins, an assistant state attorney in CT. Last spring, Ms. Collins obtained guilty pleas from two men who had used a friend's camera phone to record one of them igniting a car by tossing fireworks into an open window.
Camera-phone images frequently help win convictions in sexual-assault cases. "Once defense attorneys see them, they no longer quibble about the charges," says Gary Kessler, who teaches digital forensics in VT and consults for state police. University of Cincinnati criminal-law professor Mark Godsey says suspects give up their constitutional protection against self-incrimination when their own camera phones show them breaking the law. Mike Schirling, deputy police chief in Burlington, VT helped convict a juvenile on weapons charges based on cellphone images of him brandishing a rifle. "Drug dealers just naturally take pictures of their drugs and their money and their significant others," he adds.
Some criminals are nabbed for distributing their camera-phone shots over the Internet. Collins says she obtained restitution payments for dozens of residents whose mailboxes had been destroyed with baseball bats. The perpetrators -- local high school students -- had posted camera-phone pictures of the crime on MySpace.
Pamela Rogers, a Tennessee teacher went to jail for having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student. She was released on probation after six months and ordered to avoid contact with her victim. But within weeks, she sent the boy a camera-phone video of herself dancing in a bikini.
The boy sent it to friends, and eventually it wound up in the hands of Bob Reno, a Michigan man who operates a Website called "Badjocks.com" that documents athletes' foibles. Reno, who had been covering Rogers's case, posted the video on his Website. After prosecutors learned of the video, Rogers's probation was revoked and she returned to jail. (info from William M. Bulkeley in The Wall Street Journal