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Challenging the Authenticity of Documents in Court

Let’s say that you are in the middle of a trial, and you want to submit documents that you believe are the accurate documents but you need to prove they are so. Or you may want to challenge the validity of documents submitted by someone else. There are certain steps you can take to do so. Here are some of them.

Authentication and identification of a document have to be sufficient for the court to find that the document, matter or event is what the proponent claims it to be, prior to the court admitting it into evidence. In order to conform to the requirement that the evidence be genuine, the following are examples of authentication or identification methods:

1. Testimony by a witness with knowledge that a matter is what it is claimed to be. A witness with direct knowledge is best (such as a person who witnessed a signing of a deed).

2. Nonexpert opinion as to the genuineness of handwriting, based upon familiarity not acquired for purposes of the litigation. (A neighbor without any tie to the case, or even a co-worker, could be a good witness.)

3. Comparison by a jury or a judge in a bench trial, or by expert witnesses with specimens already. (For example, an expert witness can compare the handwriting to a handwriting on a document that is already deemed authentic.)

4. Appearance, contents, substance, internal patterns or other distinctive characteristics, taken in conjunction with circumstances. (This would pertain to a situation where the documents are exactly where they should be under the circumstances, such as business records kept in file cabinets.)

5. Identification of a voice, whether heard firsthand or through mechanical or electronic transmission or recording, by opinion based upon hearing the voice at any time under circumstances connecting it with the alleged speaker (for example, identifying a 911 caller by comparing the voice to a voice message on someone’s phone).

6. Telephone conversations, by evidence that a call was made to the number assigned at the time by the telephone company to a particular person or business (that is, by using telephone records), if:

    • In the case of a person, circumstances, including self-identification, show the person answering to be the one called (for example, the person admits to being themselves); or
    • In the case of a business, the call was made to a place of business and the conversation related to business reasonably transacted over the telephone (such as showing a call was made to the business and that the conversation attested to could be reasonably tied to the telephone conversation).

7. Evidence that a writing authorized by law to be recorded or filed and in fact recorded or filed in a public office, or a purported public record, report, statement, or data compilation, in any form, is from the public office where items of this nature are kept (for example, a deed).

8. Evidence that a document or data compilation, in any form:

    • Is in such condition as to create no suspicion concerning its authenticity (for example, again an old will);
    • Was in a place where it, if authentic, would likely be (for example, found in a safe); and
    • Has been in existence 20 years or more at the time it is offered. (In other words, there’s no reason why the document would have been fabricated so long ago.)

9. Evidence describing a process or system used to produce a result and showing that the process or system produces an accurate result (for example, a scientific calculation).

Courts can also accept other methods of authentication or identification. Speak with your attorney about the authenticity of documents or documents you find doubtful.