Unveiling the Authentication Process for Writings in Criminal Law

Woman in suit writing in courtroom

The authenticity of documents and writings can be a make-or-break element in legal proceedings. To ensure the proper admission of evidence, California's Evidence Code sections 1400-1402 define the authentication process for writings, while sections 1410-1421 elaborate on the means of authenticating and proving such documents.

Summarizing Evidence Code Sections 1400-1402

Evidence Code section 1400 states that a writing can be authenticated by evidence that it is what it purports to be, meaning that to admit a writing into evidence, one must demonstrate its identity and reliability.

Evidence Code section 1401 outlines the methods of authenticating writings, providing a list of examples such as testimony from a witness with personal knowledge or comparison with a genuine exemplar.

Evidence Code section 1402 specifies that a writing can only be introduced after authentication by a preponderance of evidence.

Means of Authenticating and Proving Writings

There are several ways to authenticate and prove a writing under Evidence Code sections 1410-1421.

Testimony of a Witness with Personal Knowledge: Section 1410 allows for authentication of a writing through the testimony of a witness who has personal knowledge of the writing’s origin or content. For example, in a forgery case, a defense attorney might call a handwriting expert to testify that the signature on a contested document doesn’t match the defendant’s genuine signature, thereby undermining the authenticity of the document.

Comparison with a Genuine Exemplar: Section 1411 states that if the authenticity of a questioned document is in dispute, a comparison with a known, genuine exemplar can be used to establish its authenticity. For instance, in a case involving check fraud, the defense can present a check signed by the defendant and compare the signatures to prove the questioned document’s authenticity.

Expert Opinion: In cases where the authenticity of a writing is complex and may require specialized knowledge, section 1412 allows for expert testimony. For example, in a grand theft case involving digital evidence, a forensic expert might be called upon to authenticate emails, texts, or other electronically stored data.

Distinctive Characteristics: Section 1413 provides that when a writing has distinctive characteristics, these can be used for authentication. For example, in a cybercrime case, the unique digital signature of a hacker's code might be used to authenticate the writing, connecting it to the defendant.

Public Records and Reports: Public records and reports made by a public officer in accordance with legal requirements are considered self-authenticating pursuant to section 1414. For example, in an embezzlement case where a defendant’s prior convictions for identity theft are relevant, the defense attorney can introduce certified court records to prove the authenticity of these documents.

Ancient Documents: Section 1415 states that documents over 30 years old are deemed authentic as long as they are in a condition that creates no suspicion of alteration. In a 35 year old homicide trial, the prosecution may introduce the defendant’s old diary entry confessing to the murder to prove the authenticity of certain events.

Documents Executed Under Seal: Documents with an official seal are self-authenticating and do not require further authentication under section 1416.

Certified Copies: Section 1417 states that in criminal cases that involve documents such as arrest records, certified copies from the custodian of records can be introduced as evidence, provided they are properly certified.

Documents in the Regular Course of Business: Section 1418 states that business records made in the regular course of business are considered authentic. For example, in a real estate fraud case, an attorney can introduce financial records from a company's accounting department to prove the authenticity of financial transactions.

Collateral Documents: Sometimes, a document is not directly at issue but is related to the case. In these instances, section 1420 states that the collateral document can be introduced to help prove the authenticity of the primary document. For example, a defense attorney may use a surveillance video from a nearby store to corroborate the authenticity of a defendant’s alibi in a robbery case.

Phone Records: In cases involving cell phone records, Section 1421 allows attorneys to use records provided by phone service providers to authenticate call logs and text messages. This may be crucial in cases related to cybercrimes or communication between individuals involved in criminal activities.

If you have been charged a crime, it is necessary that you discuss your case immediately with a knowledgeable and aggressive criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Michael Kraut has extensive knowledge of the authentication process, which could be critical for your case.

For more information about the criminal justice process, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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