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Definition[]

The best evidence rule generally requires a party seeking to prove the contents of a writing, recording, or photograph to introduce the original writing, recording, or photograph unless an exception applies.[1]

Computer printouts[]

Even though a printout of a computer-stored record might technically not be viewed as an original (especially because the “original” data are simply a string of 1s and 0s), the best evidence rule does not present a problem if the printout accurately reflects the data. In recognition of the demands of practicality and common usage, the Federal Rules of Evidence provide that “[i]f the data are stored in a computer or similar device, any printout or other output readable by sight, shown to reflect the data accurately, is an ‘original’”[2] This principle applies even if the duplicate originals have an inconsistent appearance (e.g., different fonts or margins).

Summaries[]

Under Fed.R.Evid. 1006, if the contents of voluminous writings, recordings, or photographs cannot be conveniently examined in court, a party may present them in the form of a chart, summary, or calculation — subject to limitations such as making the originals or duplicates available to the other party for inspection or copying. A printout of a computer record is not automatically regarded as a summary of that record.

Digital evidence, however, can be so voluminous that a summary of the data is required for convenience. For example, a summary of computerized invoices in a complex fraud case may be admissible if the limitations of Fed.R.Evid. 1006 are met.

State law[]

Some States have statutes that deal with the best evidence rule in more detail.[3]

References[]

  1. Fed.R.Evid. 1002.
  2. Fed.R.Evid. 1001(3).
  3. See, e.g., Cal. Evid. C. §§1521-23.
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