personal injury lawyer

Evidence Authentication

During trial, lawyers are required to authenticate items they wish to introduce as evidence. This process, known as, “laying the foundation,” requires a lawyer to produce sufficient evidence to support a finding that the item being introduced is genuine. For instance, a bloody glove found at a crime scene would most likely be authenticated through witnesses at the crime scene, and/or through law enforcement agents who subsequently handled the item to prove the item was not tampered with or replaced. Authentication of evidence is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 901.

General Methods Of Authentication

According to a personal injury lawyer, the authentication of evidence can be accomplished through various methods. These methods are not mutually exclusive – meaning the use of one or a combination thereof can be used depending on the item and case’s specifics.

Direct testimony. This method involves a witness testifying based on their knowledge that an item is what it purports to be. While direct testimony can authenticate an item, it often requires supplementation through a chain of custody to meet authentication standards fully. 

Chain of custody. This approach requires one or more witnesses to testify about their custody of the time since its discovery. The chain of custody aims to trace the item’s journey, ensuring its integrity. A break in the chain of custody doesn’t immediately render the item inauthentic but necessitates additional evidence to support its continuous and secure handling. 

Expert comparison. Experts may authenticate evidence by comparing the item in question with another authenticated item, basing their testimony on their opinion of the items’ identical characteristics. 

Distinctive characteristics. The unique features of an item – its appearance, contents, or patterns – can authenticate it when considered in light of the circumstances surrounding its discovery or use. 

Specific Methods Of Authentication

Certain types of evidence might require more specialized methods of authentication, though these specific methods can complement the general approaches discussed above. 

Handwriting and voice identification. Authentication can be accomplished through the testimony of a witness familiar with the handwriting or voice in question, even if this familiarity wasn’t gained through the litigation process.

Telephone conversations. The identity of parties in telephone conversations can be authenticated through the circumstances of the call, such as knowing the number dialed or recognizing the speaker’s voice. 

Public records and ancient documents. A public record can be authenticated through proof that the item was in the custody and control of a public office. Further, a document that is of a significant age (20 years or older), can be authenticated by evidence that the item was in a place it would likely be if authentic, and there is no suspicion of its authenticity. 

Self-Authenticating Documents

Some documents do not require external validation to be considered authentic, as dictated by Federal Rules of Evidence 902. These include official public documents, official publications, printed materials like newspapers, and business-related inscriptions or labels. These items are deemed automatically authentic unless specifically contested by the opposing party. 

The authentication of evidence is a fundamental step in the legal process, underpinning the reliability and trustworthiness of the evidence presented in court. By employing a combination of general and specific methods, legal professionals ensure that each piece of evidence can be confidently regarded as genuine, thus supporting the pursuit of justice. Understanding these procedures not only demystifies a crucial aspect of the legal system, but also highlights the meticulous care taken to preserve the integrity of evidence. 

Thanks to Eglet Adams Eglet Ham and Henriod for their insight on Authentication. 

If you need help with evidence in your case, contact a lawyer near you.