While the best evidence rule requires a party to submit an original document if they wish to use it in a legal proceeding, in some situations, secondary evidence may suffice. However, it's crucial to understand that there is some flexibility in the word "original," and the objection is not so difficult to overcome.
The Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys at Sparks Law Firm have over 100 years of combined experience. They can help the defendants in Ft. Worth, Texas, understand the best evidence rule and how it can impact their case.
What Is the Best Evidence Rule in Texas?
The best evidence rule in Texas follows Article X of the Federal Rules of Evidence (Rules 1001-1008), which are a set of guidelines that a party may follow to request the court to allow certain evidence. Sparks Law Firm can also help with questions like What is the exclusionary rule?
Under Texas Rule of Evidence 1002, a party that wishes to prove the content of a writing, recording, or photograph must submit the original document or file.
However, the state's Rules of Evidence 1004 further states the exception to the 1002 rule of providing the original writing, recording, or photograph.
The Texas Rules of Evidence 1004 states that a party does not need to provide the original writing, recording, or photograph if they've been lost unless the documents or files have been purposely lost or destroyed in bad faith.
In such situations, the court applies the best evidence rule. This is a legal principle whereby the party wishing to prove the contents of a writing, recording, or other document must provide a valid reason as to why the original is unavailable.
Suppose the court finds that the original documents are unavailable and the reason provided by the party is acceptable. In that case, it will allow the party to use secondary evidence to prove the contents of a writing, recording, or other documents.
However, it's important to understand that the best evidence rule only applies when a party wishes to prove the contents of a lost document instead of proving an event.
A witness that has made a payment to another person, for example, may not need to produce the receipt under the best evidence rule, as they're simply testifying that they made a payment.
What Happens If the Government Does Not Produce Documents That Are Available to It?
In some cases, the government may not want to pay the retrieval cost of producing the original documents. To understand the implications of this on a criminal case, it's crucial to look at the State v. Chavera case.
In State v. Chavera, the government accused Chavera of missing out on key information when submitting a food stamp application.
Mike Casey, a fraud investigator, stated that Casey testified in his application that his wife was not receiving unemployment benefits. However, Casey could not get access to the original documents, as the department would incur a retrieval fee.
Instead of producing the original documents, Casey introduced Nora Cruz (a caseworker) to the case. Cruz testified that she handled Chavera's application and had a generic worksheet on her computer that showed that Chavera didn't disclose the unemployment benefits received by his wife.
When Cruz submitted the generic worksheet into evidence, the court convicted Chavera of the crime. However, the defendant filed a motion for a new trial on the grounds of the best evidence rule.
The Court of Appeals of Texas, San Antonio, granted the defendant a new trial and found that there was a violation of the best evidence rule. It stated that the failure to produce the document, because the Department of Health and Human Services did not want to pay the retrieval fee, was not an acceptable reason.
According to the court, if the department fails to submit evidence based solely on its unwillingness to pay the costs of retrieving the original document, the state should refuse to prosecute the case.
Although the best evidence rule can help a party prove the contents of a document, it's essential to understand that the jury is the sole judge in the court.
In the State v. Chavera case, the jury sided with Cruz's testimony, believing that it was legally sufficient, stating that the trial court made an error in giving the defendant a new trial.
Can a Party Submit Duplicates in Court?
A party can submit duplicates of the original writing, recording, or other document in court unless it is unfair to provide duplicates or there is a genuine concern about the authenticity of the document.
In a landlord-tenant dispute, for example, a party may be able to submit a copy of the lease agreement. However, if the opposing party argues that the duplicate provided is fraudulent, the best evidence rule will apply, requiring original documents to be produced in court.
Is the Best Evidence Rule Still Applicable in Texas?
There have been a lot of criticisms over the best evidence rule, with many legal scholars calling it a legal principle that is obsolete.
In a book titled "Effective Courtroom Advocacy," South Carolina District Court Judge Joseph Anderson expresses his views on the best evidence rule, stating that the law came during the time when there were no photocopy machines, which would make it difficult to produce copies of the original documents.
Anderson stated that modern technology has made it possible to avoid the possibility of human errors associated with manually copying original documents, thus making the best evidence rule obsolete.
While some scholars believe that the best evidence rule is obsolete, it is still applicable unless there are any future changes in the law.
What Are the Exceptions to the Best Evidence Rule?
There are several instances where the original documents may not be required in court, and these include the following:
All of the original writing, recording, photographs, or other evidence are lost or damaged;
There is no way to get hold of the original documents, even through any available judicial process; and
The writing, recording, photograph, or other evidence is not closely related to the issue at hand.
Below is an example of how the best evidence rule works:
Suppose Jennah is going through a divorce proceeding and wants to prove the contents of the drafted letter she read on Jonah's laptop. In that case, she may submit the original document (electronic file). What happens if the house gets burned down with the computer in it?
Since Jennah cannot retrieve the original document due to the house fire that destroyed the laptop, the best evidence rule may allow her to give her testimony instead to prove the contents of the drafted letter.
It's important to note that the court or trial judge has full discretion in refusing to apply the best evidence rule.
Suppose a party cuts and pastes a chat between two parties into MS Word, for example. In that case, the court may not review it, as the law is there to ensure accurate evidence, and editing does not accurately represent the conversation.
Sparks Law Firm Can Help Texas Defendants Fight the Prosecutors!
Those who are facing criminal charges in Ft. Worth, Texas, should call to schedule a free consultation with the skilled criminal defense attorneys at Sparks Law Firm. They can provide their clients with an experienced legal representation that is unmatched in the state!