Monday, December 17, 2012
Better Evidence or Best Evidence?: Court of Appeals of Minnesota Finds Best Evidence Rule Doesn't Apply to Confession
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 recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Minnesota in State v. Rowland, 2012 WL 6554539 (Minn.App. 2012), makes clear, however, this best evidence rule does not apply when a witness has independent personal knowledge of the contents of the writing, recording, or photograph.
In Rowland, Craig Rowland was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct. After he was convicted, Rowland appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court erred by allowing an investigator to testify regarding his statement/confession without introducing the recording of the statement/confession or a transcript. Specifically, he claimed "that the best-evidence rule required that his recorded statement be admitted, rather than the investigator's recollection of his statement."
The Court of Appeals of Minnesota disagreed, finding that
The "best-evidence" rule states that "[t]o prove the content of a writing, recording, or photograph, the original writing, recording, or photograph is required."...But the state is not required to introduce a tape or transcript of a police interview with a criminal defendant....The best-evidence rule is inapplicable here. The investigator testified regarding appellant's statement to him. "[A] witness with first-hand knowledge of what was said in a conversation may permissibly testify as to what he heard."...Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the investigator's testimony regarding his recollection of appellant's statement.
In other words, the investigator had independent personal knowledge of the statement/confession, meaning that his knowledge of the statement/confession was not dependent on the recording. Instead, the investigator himself heard Rowland make the statement/confession in person. Therefore, even if the statement/confession were not recorded, the investigator would have had knowledge of it. And that's why the best evidence rule did not apply.