In my last post, I wrote about how a party might authenticate a Facebook direct message or other text-based electronic communication. That post focused on how the proponent of the evidence might establish who wrote the message, i.e., authorship. But what if a party wants to introduce a photograph that was posted on a social media platform? The concept of authorship doesn’t really apply, and in the age of Photoshop and AI-generated images, courts may have serious concerns about the accuracy of online images. Continue reading
Category Archives: Evidence
How Does the Confrontation Clause Impact the Introduction of a Defendant’s Medical Records in a DWI Trial?
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the foundational requirements for introducing a defendant’s medical records in a DWI trial. Soon after I posted, a reader asked whether introducing those records through an affidavit from a records custodian violates a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him or her. My answer is, generally speaking, no.
How Can a Party Show Authorship of a Social Media Post or Other Electronic Communication?
Suppose that a defendant is charged with possessing fentanyl with the intent to sell it. The state’s evidence includes a Facebook direct message, purportedly from the defendant to an informant, saying “just got some China Girl, you want any?” An officer took a photograph of the direct message as it appeared on the informant’s smartphone, and everyone is satisfied that the photograph fairly and accurately depicts the message. But the defendant objects to the introduction of the message on the grounds that there’s no way to be sure that he wrote it. How might the state respond? Continue reading →
I have previously written about how the State may obtain the medical records of a person suspected of or charged with impaired driving. This post focuses on the requirements for admitting those records at trial. Continue reading →
Failure to Appear at Civil No-Contact Hearing Was a Prior Opportunity for Cross-Examination and Constituted an Implied Waiver of Confrontation Rights at Subsequent Criminal Trial
The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment generally guarantees a criminal defendant the right to confront and cross-examine his accusers in person. If a witness was available for an earlier trial or other proceeding and the defendant had an opportunity and motive to cross-examine the witness there, the witness testimony from the earlier proceeding may be admitted at a later criminal trial without offending the Confrontation Clause if the witness is unavailable at the time of trial. We have known for some time that this “prior opportunity for cross-examination” can be met at various stages of a criminal proceeding. See State v. Rollins, 226 N.C. App. 129 (2013) (testimony from plea hearing provided prior opportunity for cross); State v. Ross, 216 N.C. App. 337 (2011) (same for testimony at probable cause hearing); State v. Ramirez, (2003) (same for testimony at bond hearing, although the case was decided under hearsay rules and not expressly as a confrontation issue); State v. Chandler, 324 N.C. 172 (1989) (same for testimony from a prior trial); State v. Giles, 83 N.C. App. 487 (1986) (same for testimony from a juvenile transfer hearing). In all those cases, though, the defendant was present at the earlier proceeding, was represented by counsel, and the earlier proceedings could naturally be viewed as a part of the underlying criminal case. In State v. Joyner, 2022-NCCOA-525, ___ N.C. App. ___ (2022), the Court of Appeals expands the concept of prior opportunity to cross to a civil hearing where the defendant did not attend the hearing and was not entitled to counsel. Read on for the details. Continue reading →
Fall 2022 Cannabis Update
It has not been long since my last cannabis update, but there are some interesting new developments to report, most notably on drug identification and marijuana. Read on for the details. Continue reading →
The North Carolina General Assembly recently passed S.L. 2022-30 (S 766) which increases the penalties for organized retail theft, provides additional penalties for damage to property or assault of a person during the commission of organized retail theft, and clarifies the procedure for the return of seized property to the lawful owner. The new criminal provisions go into effect on December 1, 2022 and apply to offenses committed on or after that date. Continue reading →
What comes to mind when you think about physical evidence that is also biological evidence? It might be a bloodstained shirt or the contents of a sexual assault examination kit. What about a bedspread or a laundry basket? How about a door or a phone booth? These are all items I have seen in evidence rooms across North Carolina in my work with the North Carolina Conference of Clerks of Superior Court on receiving, storing, and disposing of evidence. It is possible that each of these items meets the statutory definition of biological evidence. G.S. 15A-268 establishes that definition and provides explicit requirements around the preservation and disposal of biological evidence, including a specific inquiry into biological evidentiary value that courts must engage in each time physical evidence is offered or admitted into evidence in a criminal proceeding. Continue reading →
Several prior posts on this blog have addressed authenticating and admitting digital evidence like social media posts and text messages (see here, here, here, and here) and we’ve also previously covered the basic rules and requirements for using the business records hearsay exception (see here, here and here), but we’ve not yet explored the questions and issues that arise when those two topics collide.
For example, if the state obtains a complete copy of a suspect’s account records from Facebook, Twitter, or AT&T, including user-generated content such as messages, chats, texts, and posts, can that evidence be admitted as a business record? I recently had an opportunity to talk about digital evidence with prosecutors in several other states, and there are opposing views in different jurisdictions about the correct answer to this question. This post looks at the conflicting interpretations, the North Carolina guidance we have so far, and an interesting alternative approach.
Nearly half of the 7.7 billion people in the world are on social media, and each of those users has an average of 8 different accounts. The rate is even higher in the U.S., with around 70% of the population active on social media for an average of 2 hours every day. You can find more jaw-dropping statistics here.
Given these trends, it’s no surprise that social media evidence is showing up more frequently in criminal cases. A quick search for criminal cases mentioning the most common social media platforms brought up well over 100 North Carolina cases decided in the last decade, but only a few of those cases have directly analyzed the authentication requirements for this type of evidence. The Court of Appeals recent decision in State v. Clemons, __ N.C. App. __ (Dec. 1, 2020) provides some additional guidance in this important area.