Website Evidence on Valuation

The issue in Tippie v. Patnik, 2008 Ohio 1653; 2008 Ohio App. LEXIS 1429 (Ohio App. April 4, 2008), was the valuation of certain gold and silver items in a divorce context. Much of the case revolved around Ohio Rule 701 and the ability of the owner to testify as to value. The trial judge excluded certain printouts taken from the Internet. The majority affirmed. The perspective of the dissent:

Appellee's argument indicates the quagmire that courts and litigants discover in the wealth of information available in cyber space. The counter argument is that without these exhibits or the ability to search the Internet, the cost and expense of hiring an appraiser to determine the value when the parties agree that the silverware has some value could be prohibitive. This would create another cost for the parties, and inevitably for the contemnor, as appellee was the one to possess the property in violation of court order.

Website content, forms, and state-sponsored web pages can be introduced as evidence before a trial court, via affidavit, so long as the items are properly identified for purposes of summary judgment. The court, or any party, can validate their authenticity by simply going to the website if a question is raised or by submitting other websites with opposing information. A printout from a website can be authenticated and accepted as valid, reliable evidence by the trial court using testimony from the party who is trying to introduce it. The question is not its admissibility, but its weight and a determination of the purpose for its admission. Computer technology is forcing us to look beyond traditional evidentiary submissions to the "public" domain of the Internet for a variety of evidence.

Evid.R. 902 holds that many documents are self-authenticating, and, as such, other proof of authenticity as a condition precedent is not required.

The website of the Secretary of State can be considered self-authenticating as an "official publication," cf. Evid.R. 902(5), like copies of printed material (i.e., newspaper articles) are under Evid.R. 902(6).

The proper method to challenge such admissions is not dependent upon whether the material contained in the publication has been verified. If claimed unreliable, the document may be impeached after its admission.

This adequately addresses authentication. There are also hearsay issues, of course, although some of these boil down to trustworthiness as well. See Internet and Email Evidence on the Recent Articles page.

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