Monday, February 22, 2021
Federal Rule of Evidence 801(c) states that
“Hearsay” means a statement that:
(1) the declarant does not make while testifying at the current trial or hearing; and
(2) a party offers in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.
It is well established that computer-generated evidence is not hearsay. But what about computer-generated evidence based on human input? That was the question addressed by the Eighth Circuit in its recent opinion in United States v. Oliver, 2021 WL 503298 (8th Cir. 2021).
In Oliver, Shelton Oliver was charged with five counts of drug-trafficking. Specifically,
Law enforcement officers began investigating Oliver and other drug-trafficking suspects in October 2017 after a man named Ty Olsen died of a multi-drug overdose in Sioux City, Iowa. Officers had information that Oliver sold Olsen heroin shortly before his death. As part of the investigation, law enforcement used a confidential informant named Christopher Hirschauer to buy $50 to $100 worth of heroin from Oliver on four separate occasions. Each of the transactions took place within 1,000 feet of either a park or a school. Oliver was eventually arrested for drug trafficking in March 2018.
At trial, the prosecution introduced
a series of maps offered to establish that the controlled buys took place within 1,000 feet of a “protected location.”...Two Sioux City employees-Geographic Information Systems Supervisor Nicholas Bos and Crime Analyst Marie Divis-created the maps to depict the location of each drug transaction relative to nearby parks or schools. Based on statements made by Sergeant Troy Hansen from the Sioux City Police Department, Bos and Divis used mapping software to electronically mark the relevant locations on maps and then noted the distances between them with lines and other labels.
After he was convicted, Oliver appealed, claiming that "the map exhibits are inadmissible because Bos and Divis's markings (or 'tacks') on the maps constitute hearsay. The Eighth Circuit agreed, finding (harmless) error, concluding that
We are not persuaded by the argument that the markings cannot constitute hearsay simply because they are computer-generated. Although “[m]achine-generated records usually do not qualify as ‘statements’ for hearsay purposes,” they “can become hearsay when developed with human input.” United States v. Juhic, 954 F.3d 1084, 1089 (8th Cir. 2020)....In Juhic, this court determined that computer-generated reports contained impermissible hearsay because “human statements and determinations were used to classify” the relevant files that were referenced in the reports and later offered against the defendant....Similarly, here, Sergeant Hansen's out-of-court statements regarding the physical locations of the drug transactions were used to produce the relevant points and distances marked on the maps. Bos also testified that he added a legend to each map describing the relevant locations.