EvidenceProf Blog

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

Friday, January 10, 2014

You've Got Mail: Court of Appeals of Texas Finds Alleged E-Mail From Victim's Mother Improperly Authenticated

Similar to its federal counterpartTexas Rule of Evidence 901(a) provides that

The requirement of authentication or identification as a condition precedent to admissibility is satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims.

So, assume that a party seeks to authenticate an e-mail as an e-mail written by a certain person. Will evidence that the e-mail appeared to come from an e-mail address belonging to the alleged drafter typically be enough to authenticate the e-mail? According to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Texas, San Antonio, in Chin v. State, 2013 WL 6869905 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 2013), the answer is "no."

In Chin, James Michael Chin was convicted by a jury of aggravated sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child. After he was convicted, Chin appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court erred in precluding him from introducing an e-mail allegedly written by the victims' mother in which she admitted that one of the victims had lied about the sexual abuse.

According to the court,

Electronic evidence may be authenticated in a number of different ways....Printouts of emails have "been admitted into evidence when found to be sufficiently linked to the purported author so as to justify submission to the jury for its ultimate determination of authenticity."...With regard to printouts of emails, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has instructed "[t]hat an email on its face purports to come from a certain person's email address” is typically not sufficient to support a finding of authenticity without additional links.

Applying this standard, the court concluded that

In this case, the victims' mother denied sending Chin the email in question, and the only link between the victims' mother and the email was the email address. When discussing the admissibility of the evidence at trial, the trial court determined that Chin had not met his threshold burden, noting:  

Because it looks to me like it's very possible that somebody xeroxed one thing on top of another. And you cannot say that's an original. And she's denying that she ever did it.  

So unless you have some record that's going to be more authentic than that, then I'm not allowing that.  I can go back there right now and take my email and cut off the to and the from and then place it over another statement and xerox it. And that doesn't mean that that's an authentic e-mail.  

Because the only link between the email in question and the victims' mother was the email purporting on its face to have been sent from her email address, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the email from evidence, and Chin's second issue is overruled.



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