Friday, August 15, 2008

Admissibility of Documentary Evidence: Public Records not Hearsay, but ....


Admission of public records, self-authentication, TRE 803 (8)

The admission and exclusion of evidence is committed to the trial court’s sound discretion, but a trial court abuses that discretion when it acts without regard for any guiding rules or principles. City of Brownsville v. Alvarado, 897 S.W.2d 750, 753–54 (Tex. 1995).

Texas Rule of Evidence 803(8) excludes records from public offices and agencies from the hearsay rule. Tex. R. Evid. 803(8). However, such records must be properly authenticated to be admissible. Tex. R. Evid. 901(a).

Generally, the 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 the proponent claims, and specifically, public records or reports may be authenticated by evidence that the purported public record or report is from the public office where items of this nature are kept. Tex. R. Evid. 901(a); 901(b)(7).

While Brazoria County contends that Rule 803(8) creates a presumption of admissibility, with the burden being placed on the party opposing the admission of the report to show its untrustworthiness, that presumption does not exempt the offered document from satisfying other requirements of the rules. See 1001 McKinney, Ltd. v. Credit Suisse First Boston Mortgage Capital, 192 S.W.3d 20, 27–28 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2005, pet. denied).

The rules of evidence do not require extrinsic evidence of authenticity as a condition precedent to admissibility for certified copies of public records because they are self-authenticating. Tex. R. Evid. 902(4).

The contested exhibits here, however, were not authenticated by either certification or any extrinsic evidence. The trial court therefore erred in admitting these documents over objections to their authenticity.

SOURCE: Benefield v. State of Texas
(Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Aug. 14, 2008)(Bland) (admission of evidence, authenticity and authentication of public records

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