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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Monday, November 12, 2007

The Definition of Irony: William Speybrock's Fraud Conviction Reversed After Fraudulent Authentication is Discovered

Last November, a jury in Indiana convicted William Speybroeck of fraud on a financial institution and identity deception.  Prosecutors had claimed that Speybroeck used his father's identity to open a credit account with HSBC, obtain a Kawasaki "Good Times Credit Card," and purchase a Kawasaki motorcycle.

At trial, over the defendant's objection, the prosecutor introduced into evidence, inter alia, Exhibit 11, which contained a notarized 'certificate of authentication' affidavit signed by the operations manager at HSBC's fraud department and several other documents indicating that the defendant was guilty of several crimes.  The court found this evidence admissible pursuant to Indiana Rule of Evidence 902(9), which generally holds that "business records" are self-authenticating "[u]nless the source of information or the circumstances of preparation indicate a lack of trustworthiness."

On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed Speybroeck's convictions, finding that such circumstances existed, at least with regard to certain computer printouts.  Specifically, it found that the operations manager's affidavit was signed and dated on October 23, 2006 while the printouts were not created until October 24, 2006.  Obviously, it would be impossible for the operations manager to authenticate documents that had not yet been created.  The court also noted that some of the documents in Exhibit 11 would have been inadmissible hearsay and would not have qualified for the "business records" exception contained in Indiana Rule of Evidence 803(6) because no one at HSBC had the personal knowledge necessary to authenticate the documents.

I generally think that courts should require more of proponents before finding that authentication requirements are met, and this case provides a good example of how courts have improperly adopted a "rubber stamp" approach to authenticating evidence.

-CM

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