Electronic Evidence in Small Claims Court
Feb 08, 2016
Small Claims Court provides you with a faster and cheaper alternative to other forms of litigation. The hearings remain informal by forbidding attorney representation and relaxing rules of evidence in order to allow you to present your case in the simplest way possible. As a result, Small Claims judges tend to allow evidence that would not be allowed in a normal trial. However, while the judge may allow a piece of evidence she must still weigh its credibility. To put it simply, if the judge does not believe your evidence is truthful, then she is not likely to side with you.
Courts have an added suspicion of electronic evidence because of the ease in both altering electronic images and sending communications without authorization. You should therefore plan to give some showing that your electronic evidence is what you claim it is. This process is called authentication, and while it is not formally required in a small claims hearing it can strengthen your case.
Messages from the Other Party
Sometimes the legitimacy of a message or its origin is brought into question. Even when a text message, email, or social media post bears the name of a sender it is still not certain that the named person sent the communication. For example, an opposing party may claim that a text message was not sent by him, but by a third party who improperly accessed the opposing party’s phone or account. In this case look at the content of the message for distinguishing characteristics that show the message was sent by the other party. For instance, does the message relay information that only the other party would know? Does the message contain similar greeting, signature, or writing styles as messages that the other party does not question? Is the message consistent with conversations found in other messages not in question?
When an electronic file is created data about the time and manner of its creation is stored with it. For instance, when a digital photo is taken the camera (or smartphone) will store the time at which the photo was taken. If you plan to pictures at your hearing, try to bring the camera that took the photos. If the other party claims the photos were not taken at the time you claim they were taken, offer to show the judge the Meta-data on your camera.
If you plan to submit a screenshot of a webpage, for example a Craigslist post, try to have the website address as well as the date the screenshot was taken in the screenshot itself. This allows the judge to potentially access the webpage herself.
Physical printouts and copies of your electronic evidence can and should be brought to your hearing. Bring enough copies of each piece of evidence for you, the judge, and every other party. Whatever you want to show the judge, you will have to show the other parties.
If the authenticity of a piece of electronic evidence is called into question you can use the above methods to bolster the credibility of the evidence. Of course, the other party may honestly admit to sending messages that he did in fact send. However, you should anticipate that the other party may be untruthful, simply forgetful, or he may not show up at all. In any case, be prepared to convince the judge that your argument is valid and your evidence is truthful.
Michael Duran, Guest Blogger
Inland Empire Latino Lawyers Association
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