Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Authentication of Chat Room Evidence

From State v. Bell, 2009 Ohio 2335; 2009 Ohio App. LEXIS 2112 (Ohio Ct. App. May 18, 2009):

[A]ppellant argues that the trial court erred by admitting printouts of the alleged on-line conversations and e-mail messages between T.W., one of the teenage victims, and appellant "that took place through MySpace" because the disputed documents were never properly authenticated. In support of this argument, appellant apparently claims the printouts of the disputed on-line conversations and e-mails were "business records" under Evid.R. 803(6), and therefore, not admissible because they "were never properly authenticated by anyone from MySpace." However, based on our review of the record, and contrary to appellant's claim, the printouts of the alleged on-line conversations and e-mails between T.W. and appellant are not "business records" under Evid.R. 803(6) as they are not "records of [the] regularly conducted activity" of Fox Interactive Media, Co., the immediate owner and operator of MySpace.

***[T]he requirement of authentication or identification as a condition precedent to admissibility is satisfied by "evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims." Evid.R. 901(A). To establish the documents are what the proponent claims them to be, namely computer printouts of conversations between the victim and appellant, the "proponent need not prove beyond any doubt that the evidence is what it purports to be." ... Instead, the proponent must only demonstrate a "reasonable likelihood" that the evidence is authentic.... Such evidence may be supplied by the testimony of a witness with knowledge. Evid.R. 901(B)(1)....

In this case, T.W. testified on direct examination, as well as during his lengthy cross-examination, that the disputed documents were, in fact, computer printouts of the alleged on-line conversations and e-mails between him and, who he believed to be, appellant. T.W. also testified as to how he was able to retrieve and print these documents by logging into his MySpace account and clicking on the "messages button." The trial court, in its decision to admit the computer printouts, found the documents were properly authenticated and that any concern regarding the documents, i.e. whether they were fabricated by T.W., merely went to the weight the jury could give to the evidence. We find no error in this conclusion. As a result, the trial court did not err, let alone abuse its discretion, in admitting the computer printouts of the alleged on-line conversations and e-mails because they were properly authenticated by a witness with knowledge as required by Evid.R. 901 prior to their admission at trial. See [State v. Bettis, Butler App. No. CA2004-02-034, 2005 Ohio 2917, at p. 29; State v. Brantley, 2008 Ohio 281 at pp. 35-36].

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