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.
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’” This principle applies even if the duplicate originals have an inconsistent appearance (e.g., different fonts or margins).
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.
Some States have statutes that deal with the best evidence rule in more detail.
- Fed.R.Evid. 1002.
- Fed.R.Evid. 1001(3).
- See, e.g., Cal. Evid. C. §§1521-23.