Post Process

Everything to do with E-discovery & ESI

The Challenges in Admitting Computer Records as Evidence

Posted by rjbiii on October 17, 2007

Computer forensics expert Scott Ellis has written an article discussing the changes wrought by the digital age, and some of the barriers to admitting computer data as evidence in court. Mr. Ellis touches on authentication issues:

Recently, a friend forwarded an article published about a case ruling in which a routine e-mail exhibit was found inadmissible because of authenticity and hearsay issues. What we should take away from that ruling is electronically stored information (ESI), just like any other evidence, must clear standard evidentiary hurdles. Whenever ESI is offered as evidence, the following evidence rules must be considered.

An excellent opinion that doubles as a treatise on authentication was written by Judge Paul Grimm, in the case of Lorraine v. Markel Amer. Ins. Co., 241 F.R.D. 534 (D. Md. 2007). The article continues on the subject.

Real evidence must be competent (authenticated), relevant and material. For example, a computer that was involved in a matter would be considered real evidence provided it hasn’t been changed, altered or accessed in a way that destroyed the evidence. The ability to use these items as evidence may be contingent on this and is why preservation of a computer or digital media must be done.

It is true that the manner in which data acquisition occurred can influence the ability to authenticate the evidence, and that a computer forensics expert would naturally focus on that aspect of authentication. We must add, though, that collection is but one part of leaping evidentiary hurdles, and much of the authentication process depends upon the type of digital evidence one is trying to get admitted. Again, read the Lorraine opinion, or look at the case blurbs from the opinion here on Post Process to get an idea how it all works.

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