Sunday, July 29, 2012
Picture Perfect: Court Of Appeals Of South Carolina Finds Disk Created From Motion-Activated Camera Satisfied Best Evidence Rule
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 statute.
An "original" of a writing or recording is the writing or recording itself or any counterpart intended to have the same effect by a person executing or issuing it. An "original" of a photograph includes the negative or any print therefrom. If data are stored in a computer or similar device, any printout or other output readable by sight, shown to reflect the data accurately, is an "original".
So, let's say that the victim places a motion-activated camera on his refrigerator, the camera takes photographs that allegedly depict the defendant/burglar, the victim uploads these photographs to his computer and the downloads them onto a disk. If the prosecution presents this disk at trial, has it satisfied South Carolina Rule of Evidence 1002, the Best Evidence Rule? According to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of South Carolina in State v. Mitchell, 3025099 (S.C.App. 2012), the answer is "yes."In Mitchell, the facts were as stated above. Specifically,
In the early morning of October 28, 2008, Stephen Potts returned to his home in Newberry County and discovered someone had broken into his home during his absence. After reviewing a motion-activated deer camera that had been placed on top of his refrigerator, Potts saw photographs of a man in his kitchen. A police officer subsequently identified the man in the photographs as [Bennie] Mitchell.
In January 2009, the Newberry County Grand Jury (Grand Jury) indicted Mitchell on one count of first-degree burglary, one count of possession of burglary tools, and one count of enhancement of larceny. In February 2010, the Grand Jury also indicted Mitchell on one count of petit larceny.
Mitchell objected to the admission of a disk containing the photographs from the deer camera, arguing it was not the "original" as required by the South Carolina Rules of Evidence and maintaining there was a genuine issue with the original's authenticity. Potts testified during the in camera hearing that he had possession of the deer camera from the time he returned home on the night of the alleged incident until he took it to his business and downloaded the data onto a laptop. He identified the photographs on the disk as the ones he downloaded directly from the camera. Potts stated the police officer viewed the photographs on his personal laptop at his home on October 28 but that laptop could not download the photographs to print them out. He then took the camera to the police station, but the police station was not able to download and print the photographs either. At that point, Potts took the deer camera back to his business where he downloaded the photographs and copied them onto a disk. The State argued that the deer camera photographs were meant to be downloaded and then printed out. It then analogized the deer camera to a regular film camera because when one takes a picture with a regular film camera, the original is on the film and then the person can get them developed to produce a copy of what came from the original. Thus, the State maintained the photographs fell under the definition of an original.
Potts admitted the pictures had a timestamp of 3:00 a.m., even though he testified he returned home from work around 1:00 or 1:30 a .m. He stated the clock was wrong on the deer camera because he had just set it up and had not properly programmed the clock feature yet.
The trial court thus overruled Mitchell's objection, "finding the photographs on the disk were data stored in a computer put in a format readable by sight," making them "originals" under South Carolina Rule of Evidence 1001(3).
After he was convicted, Mitchell moved for a new trial. After his motion was denied, he appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court's Best Evidence ruling was erroneous. The Court of Appeals of South Carolina disagreed, finding that
the photographs from the disk were originals pursuant to Rule 1001, SCRE. Rule 1001(3), SCRE ("If data are stored in a computer or similar device, any printout or other output readable by sight, shown to reflect the data accurately, is an 'original'."). A digital camera was used, and the photographs from the disk were testified to as being the same photographs that were on the deer camera on October 28, 2008. Mitchell had the opportunity to cross-examine Potts and the police officers as to the handling of the photographs and disk on which the photographs were downloaded.