Over the last several decades, electronic communication technologies have revolutionized every aspect of our daily lives, from how we do business to how we meet new friends. The increased use of these technologies has led to questions about how electronic evidence can be used in court. While attorneys can use digital evidence as primary evidence in court, understanding how to use this evidence effectively requires understanding the California Rules of Evidence. Read on to learn more about electronic evidence and how to present electronic exhibits in court.
What Is Electronic Evidence?
Electronic evidence is any electronically stored information used as evidence in a trial or lawsuit. Types of electronic exhibits used in court include the following:
- Text messages, and
- Other files that are stored electronically, such as spreadsheets.
Electronic exhibits must adhere to the same rules and meet the same requirements as other types of evidence, including satisfying authentication, relevance, and hearsay rules.
How to Present Electronic Exhibits in Court
At the state level, California creates several obstacles that a piece of electronic evidence must overcome to be admitted.
The first major issue in the presentation of any electronic exhibits is authentication. California Evidence Code Section 1400 provides that any evidence, including electronic evidence, must be authenticated. Authentication establishes that the piece of evidence presented is what it claims to be. If a piece of evidence cannot be authenticated, it will be inadmissible. There is no requirement to prove the genuineness of the evidence, but it must be authenticated.
California Evidence Code section 210 provides that all evidence must be relevant to the facts or issues of the case. Relevant evidence means, “evidence relevant to the credibility of a witness or hearsay declarant, having any tendency in reason to prove or disprove any disputed fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action.” Section 350 of California’s Evidence Code permits the admission of only relevant evidence. A court deems digital evidence relevant if it makes a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, and the fact the evidence addresses is of consequence to the determination of the action. If the evidence presented is not relevant to a fact or issue in the case, it is inadmissible.
California Evidence Code Section 1200 defines hearsay evidence as “evidence of a statement that was made other than by a witness while testifying at the hearing and that is offered to prove the truth of the matter stated.” While there are several exceptions to a raised hearsay objection, hearsay can be a challenging obstacle to overcome. If a piece of evidence does not qualify for a hearsay exclusion or exception, it will be inadmissible if it is being offered to prove the truth of the matter.
Secondary Evidence Rule
In the event an original document cannot be located to submit as evidence, California Evidence Code section 1521 permits that the content of a writing may be proved by “otherwise admissible secondary evidence.” When it comes to electronic evidence, an attorney may overcome this issue pursuant to California Evidence Code Section 750 if someone with personal knowledge of the writing verifies the content of the digital evidence presented.
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