Ninety-one percent of today’s online adults use some form of electronic communication regularly in their everyday lives. Consequently, digital evidence has become a large part of many civil and criminal cases; however, there are specific criteria to determine the admissibility of digital evidence. Here, the computer forensics experts at Atlantic Data Forensics explain the basics of how the admissibility of digital evidence is determined in court.
The Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE), as well as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), were codified with the intention to guide parties and courts–both civil and criminal–on the admission of evidence. While the FRCP and FRE were developed to dictate procedure in federal courts, many state courts have adopted rules that closely mirror them. Case law, as well as opinions issued by the courts, also guide parties in determining the admissibility of evidence. Here is how the FRE and FRCP establishes the admissibility of evidence.
Evidence Must Be Relevant
Most importantly, evidence must be relevant in order to be admissible–although, there are factors explained below that may make relevant evidence not admissible. Relevant evidence is defined as:
- Evidence regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense.
- Any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action (as ordered by the court).
- Relevant information, even if it is not admissible at the trial, if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
It is important to note; however, that a court order may also limit the admissibility of relevant evidence. A team of digital forensic experts, as well as an attorney, will be able to help parties understand the admissibility of relevant evidence.
Some Relevant Evidence is Not Admissible
As mentioned above, relevant evidence is not always admissible. Privileged or hearsay evidence is not usually admissible, unless a court order or exception deems it admissible. Privileged evidence includes communication between a husband and wife, attorney and client, doctor and patient, clergy and parishioners or other private and protected relationship.
Hearsay evidence is any statement offered in evidence to “prove the truth of the matter asserted,” unless made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing. So, a witness who testifies about another person’s words would be considered hearsay in most circumstances. There are exceptions where hearsay evidence may be admissible, as it pertains to digital evidence. Rule 803(6) and 803(7) in the FRCP provide exceptions to the hearsay rule permitting the admission of evidence if the source of the digital records is reliable and acceptable. A computer forensics expert can testify to the reliability and acceptability of a digital record.
Evidence Must Be Authenticated
Another important factor is the authenticity of evidence. If evidence cannot be appropriately authenticated, it will not be admissible in court. Rule 901 in the FRE specifies how evidence should be authenticated. Essentially, there must be reason to believe that the evidence is being presented in a genuine manner, whether through testimony of a witness with knowledge, or an expert in computer forensics. Experts can also testify on the validity of the method used to collect the digital evidence. It is also necessary to produce the original version of the evidence; otherwise a valid explanation will be necessary as explanation why the original could not be produced.
When Digital Evidence Can Make or Break the Case, You Need Experts on Your Side
There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether evidence is admissible in court. When the outcome of a legal case is on the line, it is critical to have computer forensics experts on your side who can assure the court that your digital evidence is relevant and authentic. The computer forensics experts at Atlantic Data Forensics have years of experience collecting and analyzing digital evidence, as well as testifying to its authentic nature in court. Put your case in good hands–contact Atlantic Data Forensics today for more information.