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Archive for March 14th, 2008

ABA Section Journal Addresses Admissibility of Text & Instant Messages

Posted by rjbiii on March 14, 2008

The March Issue of Litigation News (no link available to current issue) contains an article relating to the Admissibility of text and instant messages. According to the article, the major challenge for authenticating the messages is “usually proving the identity of the persons in the conversation.” These challenges are, however, navigable. To wit:

The New York Appellate Division, for example, recently held that the trial court properly admitted an Internet text message that had been authenticated strictly on the basis of circumstatial evidence. People v. Pierre. The sender, a defendant in a murder trial, allegedly transmitted a message to the victim’s cousin, stating that he did not want the victim’s baby. The prosecution did not ask the Internet service provider to authenticate the message, and the witness who testified to its origination did not print or save the message.

Even so, the witness testified that she knew the defendant’s screen name, and she had sent an instant message to that name. The Appellate Division noted that the defendant had sent the witness a reply that would have made no sense unless it had come from the defendant. Most importantly, there was no suggestion that anyone had impersonated him. Thus, the court found that these factors were sufficient to warrant admission.

The article contrasts this situation with a decision by a California court to exclude a text message, because prosecutors failed to properly authenticate it, and circumstances were such that more than one person could have sent it. The Second Circuit recently rejected a court’s decision to admit a chat session’s transcript made by cutting a pasting the text from the chat window into another file format (presumably Word?). The article concludes by emphasizing the need for attorneys to engage experts:

“As a practical matter,” says Steven A. Weiss, Chicago, former Co-Chair of the Section’s Technology for the Litigator Committee, “because of the myriad of devices being used to send and receive electronic messages, lawyers will usually need an IT expert to access and retrieve IMs and text messages, and to explain to the cour how the information is stored in a particular device and how it was retrieved.”

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