Evidence Rules 901, 803 and 902 respectively govern authentication generally, the foundation rules for business records, and “self-authenticating” documents at trial.
The Fourth Circuit recently examined the interplay between these rules in the context of a Federal conspiracy trial. In United States v. Hassan, 742 F.3d 104 (4th Cir. Feb. 4, 2014), the Fourth Circuit affirmed a jury’s conviction of two defendants based in part on inflammatory, jihad-inspired Facebook posts and YouTube training videos attributed to them.
The Court first held that the threshold showing for authenticity under Rule 901 is low. All that’s required is the offering party must make a prima facie showing that the evidence is what the party claims it is. FRE 901(a). In the context of business records, Rule 902(11) self-authenticates these records where they satisfy the strictures of Rule 803(6) based on a custodian’s certification. Rule 803(6), in turn, requires the offering party to establish that (a) the records were made at or near the time (of the recorded activity) by – or from information transmitted by – someone with knowledge, (b) that the records were “kept in the course of a regularly conducted activity or business”; and (c) that making the records was a regular practice of the business. FRE 803(6)(a)-(c).
Applying these rules, the Court held that certifications from Google’s and Facebook’s records custodians established the foundation for the Facebook “wall” posts and YouTube terror training videos. In addition, the Court found that the prosecution sufficiently connected the two conspiracy defendants to the Facebook posts and YouTube videos by tracing them to internet protocol addresses that linked both defendants to the particular Facebook and YouTube accounts that generated the posts.
Notes: For a more detailed discussion of Hassan as well as an excellent resource on social media evidence developments, see the Federal Evidence Review (http://federalevidence.com/blog/2014/february/authenticating-facebook-and-google-records)