EvidenceProf Blog

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

Monday, January 13, 2014

Credibility Gap: Northern District of Illinois Finds Train Video Properly Authenticated Under Rule 901(b)(1)

Federal Rule of Evidence 901(b)(1) allows for authentication through

(1) Testimony of a Witness with Knowledge. Testimony that an item is what it is claimed to be.

What this means is that a witness with personal knowledge may authenticate an exhibit. But what if said witness is wholly lacking in credibility? That was the question addressed by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in its recent opinion in Jones v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, 2014 WL 37843 (N.D.Ill. 2014).

In Jones

Timothy Jones was killed on the morning of August 4, 2010, when his car collided with a train owned by Union Pacific Railroad Company...and operated at the time of the accident by engineer Steven Pignato....Mr. Jones's widow, Christine Jones, sue[d] on behalf of herself and as special administrator of her late husband's estate.

Before trial, the plaintiff sought to preclude the admission of "a video purportedly downloaded from a video recording system on the locomotive involved in the collision." Specifically, the plaintiff claimed, inter alia, that the video was improperly authenticated. According to the court, however,

Pignato state[d] that the camera that recorded the video—the "TIR," Track Image Recording—was situated in front of him and slightly to the left on the dashboard of the locomotive. The recording show[ed] the crossing as he approached it, clear of pedestrians and vehicles, with gates down and lights flashing. 

In response, the plaintiff tried

to cast doubt on Pignato's credibility and on his version of events....For example, Jones sa[id] that "Pignato's credibility is highly questionable" because he lied in his deposition about graduating high school....She also claim[ed] that Pignato...contradicted himself by saying that he did not notice the car until "a second or less" before impact even though he saw the crossing approaching for "20 to 30 seconds."...She argue[d] that his testimony [wa]s further undermined by that of three bystanders, all of whom say that the car was in the crossing for several seconds before the collision, and one of whom maintains that the gates did not come completely down....Jones also contend[ed] that the car should be visible in the video because Pignato and the bystanders say that it flipped upward after impact.

According to the court, however,

Although Jones's arguments on this point might help her undermine the weight of Pignato's testimony, they do not bar the video's admission. The authentication requirement is satisfied when a witness with knowledge testifies "that an item is what it is claimed to be." Fed.R.Evid. 901(b)(1)....Pignato is such a witness with knowledge, because is able to testify about how the video was made.



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That sees wrong to me. Isn't what the video claims to be not merely a recording of the event but an accurate recording? If that is the case then it strikes me that credibility does not go to the weight of the evidence but to its admissibility.

Posted by: Daniel | Jan 14, 2014 3:37:50 PM

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