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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Can I Get A Receipt For That?: Court Of Appeals Of Minnesota Finds Best Evidence Rule Not Violated By Testimony Regarding Receipt Not Offered To Prove Its Contents

Like its federal counterpartMinnesota Rule of Evidence 1002 provides that

To prove the content of a writing, recording, or photograph, the original writing, recording, or photograph is required, except as otherwise provided in these rules or by Legislative Act.

As the language of this Best Evidence Rule indicates, however, it only applies when a part is seeking to prove the content of a writing, recording, or photograph. It doesn't apply when a witness references a writing, recording, or photograph, not to prove its contents, but to establish some other consequential fact. This is the reason why the Court of Appeals of Minnesota rejected the appellant's best evidence challenge in its recent opinion in State v. Wiskow, 2009 WL 3172156 (Minn.App. 2009).

In Wiskow, Cain Lee Wiskow was convicted of of fleeing a peace officer and giving a false name to police. These convictions arose out of a road rage incident. After that incident, Officer John Swenson pulled over a person in a white Lincoln matching the description of the suspect in that incident and asked the driver/suspect, who looked familiar to Swenson, for his license and proof of insurance. The suspect responded that he had neither his license nor proof of insurance but did eventually tell the officer that his name was "Michael Lee Jones."  The officer could not find a match in the state database and again couldn't find a match after the driver said that his last name was spelled "J-O-H-N-S."

Officer Angela Timmerman thereafter arrived and also thought that the suspect looked familiar and asked him

if he had anything in his possession that would help verify his identity. The suspect searched the center console of the vehicle and examined a document before inserting it back into the console. Officer Swenson noticed that the document looked “official” and believed that it might provide some information about the suspect's identity. Officer Swenson asked the suspect to show him the document, and the suspect complied. Officer Swenson determined that the document was a sales receipt for the white Lincoln that contained the name of appellant Cain Wiskow as the purchaser of the vehicle. Upon seeing the name, the officers immediately recognized the suspect as appellant. Officer Timmerman located appellant's driver's license photograph in the state database and confirmed that appellant was the driver.

After the officers recognized Wiskow, he became nervous and fidgety, and when Officer Swenson asked him to turn off his vehicle, Wiskow refused to comply and instead drove away at a high rate of speed. Wiskow was later apprehended after the officers put his name into the state database.

At Wiskow's trial, Officers Swenson and Timmerman testified regarding the receipt, but the receipt was not presented into evidence. This in part led to Wiskow's appeal because he claimed that the officers' testimony violated Minnesota Rule of Evidence 1002.

The Court of Appeals of Minnesota disagreed, finding that the prosecution was not seeking to prove the contents of the receipt (i.e., that Wiskow was the owner of the Lincoln); instead, they were using the receipt to explain what triggered the officers' memories of appellant's identity and caused them to search for appellant in the state database. Therefore, because the prosecution was using the receipt to prove another consequential fact and not its contents, its admission did not violate Minnesota Rule of Evidence 1002.   

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2009/10/best-evidence-receiptstate-of-minnesota-respondent-v-cain-lee-wiskow-appellant----nw2d------2009-wl-3172156minnapp.html

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