Is a Written Transcript the “Best Evidence” of a Recording?

Shocking videos on sites like Faceboook Live may dominate the headlines (see examples here and here), but criminal attorneys know that the humble, old-fashioned audio recording still plays a large role in many cases. The state’s evidence at trial might include recordings of jail calls, witness interviews, 911 calls, suspect interrogations, wiretap intercepts, controlled buys, incriminating voicemails, and more. To aid in presenting that evidence to the jury (especially when the quality or volume of the recording is less than ideal), some prosecutors also prepare and introduce a written transcript of what was said on the tape.

That raises a tough question: Does the introduction of a transcript of an audio recording run afoul of the “best evidence” rule? There are cases that go both ways on this issue, and at first glance the rule seems to be something along the lines of “it is a violation, except when it isn’t, and sometimes maybe it doesn’t matter anyway.”

Let’s try to clean that up a little.

Read more