EvidenceProf Blog

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Caller ID, Take 2: Court Of Appeals Of North Carolina Finds Text Message Authenticated Through Distinctive Characteristics

On the heels of the Supreme Court of Arkansas finding a text message authenticated based on distinctive characteristics, the Court of Appeals reached a similar conclusion in its recent opinion in State v. Wilkerson, 2012 WL 4867697 (N.C.App. 2012).

In Wilkerson, Donuatte Wilkerson was convicted of felonious larceny after breaking and entering and felonious possession of stolen goods. The items that Wilkerson allegedly stole were "a 52–inch flat screen Samsung television, some laptop computers, a desktop computer, a keyboard, speakers, a Wii game, several DVDs, a laundry basket, jewelry, and some change...." After he was convicted, Wilkerson appealed, claiming that the trial court improperly allowed for the admission of a text message that was not properly authenticated. Unfortunately, the court's opinion does not state the exact content of the text message, but it does indicate that the text message referenced the stolen television.

In addressing Wilkerson's appeal, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina noted that North Carolina Rule of Evidence 901(b)(4) allows for authentication through

Distinctive Characteristics and the Like. – Appearance, contents, substance, internal patterns, or other distinctive characteristics, taken in conjunction with circumstances.

The court then easily found that the text message was properly authenticated under this Rule, concluding that

Here, the State presented substantial circumstantial evidence tending to show that Defendant was the sender of the text message at issue. Defendant's car was seen driving up and down the victim's street on the day of the crime in a manner such that an eyewitness found the car suspicious and called police. The eyewitness provided a license plate number and a description of the car that both matched Defendant's car, and she testified that the driver appeared to be using a cell phone. The morning after the crime, the car was found parked in front of Defendant's home and some of the stolen property was found in the trunk. The phone was found on Defendant's person the following morning. Around the time of the crime, multiple calls were made from and received by Defendant's cell phone. The message itself referenced an item that was stolen: a large, flat-screen Samsung television. Further,...by referencing the cell towers used to transmit the calls, expert witnesses established the time of the calls placed, the process employed, and a path of transit tracking the phone from the area of Defendant's home to the area of the victim's home and back.



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