EvidenceProf Blog

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Not Out Of Print: 5th Circuit Finds Fingerprint Card Is Self-Authenticating

Federal Rule of Evidence 902 provides that

The following items of evidence are self-authenticating; they require no extrinsic evidence of authenticity in order to be admitted....

One such self-authenticating item is covered by Federal Rule of Evidence 902(4):

Certified Copies of Public Records. A copy of an official record — or a copy of a document that was recorded or filed in a public office as authorized by law — if the copy is certified as correct by:  

(A) the custodian or another person authorized to make the certification; or  

(B) a certificate that complies with Rule 902(1), (2), or (3), a federal statute, or a rule prescribed by the Supreme Court.

So, can a fingerprint card qualify as a self-authenticating document under Federal Rule of Evidence 902(4)? According to the recent opinion of the Fifth Circuit in United States v. Ibarra, 2012 WL 5985099 (5th Cir. 2012), the answer is "yes."

In Ibarra, Ruben Ibarra was convicted by a jury of one count of unlawfully possessing a firearm as a previously convicted felon. After he was convicted, Ibarra appealed, claiming, inter alia, "that the district court improperly admitted a fingerprint card that was attached to a state court felony judgment." The Fifth Circuit disagreed, finding that

Ibarra's argument is flatly contradicted by the trial record. Here, the Government offered into evidence a certified copy of a Judgment of Conviction and Sentence issued against "Ruben Ibarra" on January 6, 2009, in the 406th Judicial District Court of Webb County, Texas, Cause No.2008CRD000629–D4. Attached to the state judgment was a copy of a document bearing the same caption and date as that judgment and containing a full set of fingerprints of the defendant in that case. The fingerprints were taken by a court bailiff in accordance with the Texas statute requiring that a judgment reflect the defendant's thumbprint.

The court then found that this fingerprint card was authenticated through

the testimony of a deputy clerk for the District Clerk's Office of Webb County. According to the deputy clerk, who testified as custodian of records for that office and the courts that it serves, the judgment—including the fingerprint card—was the certified copy of conviction kept by the Clerk's Office in the regular course of business. Based on the foregoing testimony, it is evident that the challenged fingerprint card is self-authenticating, and thus the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the card. See FED.R.EVID. 902(4)....

Alternatively, the court found that

Even if the fingerprint card arguably is not self-authenticating, the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the card into evidence, because it also qualifies as a "public record" admissible under Rule 901(b)(7) of the Federal Rules of Evidence.



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