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

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wait For The DVD: Court Of Appeals Of Arkansas Finds Drug Sale DVDs Properly Authenticated

Like its federal counterpartArkansas Rule of Evidence 901(b)(1) provides that a party can authenticate evidence through the "[t]estimony of a witness with knowledge that a matter is what it is claimed to be." And, like its federal counterpartArkansas Rule of Evidence 901(b)(9) provides that a party can authenticate evidence through "[e]vidence describing a process or system used to produce a result and showing that the process or system produces an accurate result." And, as the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Arkansas in Williams v. State, 2011 WL 4067412 (Ark.App. 2011), makes clear, if the prosecution seeks to introduce DVDs containing video recordings of a defendant selling drugs to a confidential informant, it can authenticate the DVDs by satisfying both rules.

In Williams, Jimmy Lee Williams was charged with two counts of delivery of a controlled substance (marijuana), two counts of delivery of a controlled substance (cocaine), possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of marijuana. At trial, the prosecution tried to introduce DVDs containing hidden-camera video recordings of Williams selling drugs to a confidential informant on four occasions. The trial court initially deemed these DVDs inadmissible because the prosecution failed to lay a proper foundation.

The prosecution then recalled Cameron Owens, the officer who made the DVDs from the hidden-camera recordings and who testified in part as follows:

WITNESS: Yesterday we talked about my video recordings on the undercover recorder. There was a video made on the undercover recorder. After I stop the recorder, and I've—It's a little digital recorder, a computer generated video file, there's a, it's on a card inside that recorder. I take it to the computer and by a USB cable I download that file onto the hard drive of the computer which makes an exact copy of that file. And then at that time I make another digital, exact digital copy and I put it on the disk. Those are the disks that I have in front of me. The disk from January 5 is the disk that I reviewed with the informant.

Thereafter, "both Officer Owens and the confidential informant testified that the recordings on the DVDs were true and accurate depictions of what transpired during the drug transactions with appellant." Ultimately, the trial court allowed the prosecution to admit the DVDs, and WIlliams was convicted.

Williams thereafter appealed, claiming that the prosecution failed to properly authenticate the DVDs. The Court of Appeals of Arkansas disagreed, concluding that the

Appellant's argument is without merit because the State offered testimony from two witnesses with knowledge of the DVDs and transactions, as well as testimony describing the process used to create the DVDs. Officer Owens and the informant testified that they did not tamper with the camera or recordings, that they reviewed each DVD, and that the DVDs were fair and accurate depictions of what transpired during the drug buys. See Ark. R. Evid. 901(b)(1). Moreover, Officer Owens identified the DVDs in court as the ones that he had specifically made from the recordings. He testified about the process of placing the recordings on the DVDs. His testimony was sufficient to authenticate the DVDs and establish that they were accurate copies of the recordings of appellant's drug transactions. See Ark. R. Evid. 901(b)(9). Further, Officer Owens testified that he reviewed the videos with the informant, and the informant testified that he reviewed the DVDs that were before the court. Because Rule 901(b)(1) and (9) were satisfied, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2011/09/901b9-williams-v-state2011-ark-app-521-not-reported-in-sw3d-2011-wl-4067412arkapp2011.html

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