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Do Screenshots Fulfill the Finest Proof Rule?

Federal Rule of Proof 1002, higher referred to as the “finest proof rule,” states {that a} get together searching for to show the content material of a writing, recording, or {photograph} should produce the unique until an exception applies. Additional, Rule 1001(d) offers that, for electronically saved info, an “unique” means a printout or different visually-readable output that “precisely displays the knowledge.”

Screenshots are a standard technique to save and share a visible copy of messages we obtain. However are these pictures sufficient to fulfill the perfect proof rule?

A case out of the federal courts in Texas determined in April 2021 helps as an instance this downside. In Edwards v. Junior State of America Basis, a Black highschool scholar alleged that one other scholar despatched him racist and homophobic Fb messages. The criticism included .jpeg pictures of the alleged messages, screenshots from Edwards’ telephone.

Federal Decide Finds Screenshots Inadmissible to Show Contents

U.S. District Decide Sean D. Jordan of Texas’ Japanese District held that the events should produce information of their “native” format or as a “correctly processed picture,” which consists of related metadata. Metadata describes different information. Photos with metadata embrace details about the scale of the picture, when it was created, the picture decision, and extra. All of which screenshots typically lack.

“[A]lthough the Finest Proof Rule permits for an unique ‘{photograph}’ to show the contents of the {photograph}, this doesn’t imply that the screenshot right here can be utilized to show that Harper despatched the Fb messages contained within the screenshots,” the courtroom reasoned. “As an alternative, the screenshots show solely that Edwards, Jr. took a screenshot containing what seems to be Fb messages.”

Due to this fact, Edwards may solely use the screenshot for the very restricted—and reasonably ineffective—goal of displaying that Edwards took a screenshot. A pc forensics knowledgeable testified that “it’s extremely straightforward to create faux Fb conversations utilizing on-line instruments, nevertheless it might be very tough to manufacture a dialog on the Fb platform itself.” On this case, the Fb information is probably the most genuine and dependable supply, and “[a]ny conversations depicted within the supposed screenshots should be validated in opposition to the Fb information itself.” 

The issue for Edwards was, he deleted his Fb account.

Exceptions Overshadowed 

Rule 1003 permits for duplicates or carbon copies to face in for the unique piece of proof. However this exception solely applies when there is no such thing as a “real query…raised concerning the unique’s authenticity.” Right here, the events have been in dispute concerning the supply and authenticity of the racist messages. 

Decide Jordan doesn’t talk about Rule 1003 or different exceptions to the perfect proof rule, as a substitute specializing in the very fact that Edwards didn’t take “cheap steps to protect” the unique messages, regardless of his obligation to take action with a trial underway. He reasoned that each one Edwards needed to do was not completely delete his Fb. Edwards additionally apparently had entry to the native information by way of a third-party firm for a 12 months throughout litigation however took no steps to acquire the info earlier than the third get together deleted the information. None of this helped his case.

General, the choice in Edwards demonstrates that the contents of an email correspondence aren’t the one essential piece of proof. Litigants should additionally show who despatched the message, after they despatched it, and confirm its authenticity. Most often, screenshots won’t be sufficient to realize this outcome, primarily as a result of they are often altered or wholly created utilizing digital modifying instruments. Fortunately, many messaging platforms have built-in instruments that export the info essential to admit this sort of proof. 

Backside line: It’s in a plaintiff’s finest curiosity to carry off on deleting their social media platforms, not less than till trial is over.

Learn this opinion and hundreds extra with a free trial of Westlaw Edge.

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