Legal How-To: Using Email as Evidence
You may think an email message is the "smoking gun" in your case, and you'd like to use it as evidence. But legally, it isn't always as easy as bringing a printed-out copy of an important email to court.
The rules of evidence may require that the email be authenticated and to be introduced in a way that doesn't violate the general prohibition on hearsay evidence.
With these concerns in mind, here are a few tips on how to use email as evidence:
Make Hard Copies, Backups
Although it's fairly easy to retrieve an email that you want to use as evidence, you should make a hard copy and a backup digital copy of that email just in case. This is particularly important if the message you want as evidence lies on your work email, which your employer likely has legal access to.
Authenticate or Ask for a Stipulation
You may know or believe that an email is an authentic representation of a person or company's words to you or a third party, but courts often demand some form of proof that an email is genuine. Some notarized or government documents are self-authenticating, but emails often require some proof of its authenticity. This can be provided by:
- Witnesses. Email senders or receivers can testify at trial to the email's authenticity.
- Signature blocks. Business signature blocks in emails may count as self-authenticating trade inscriptions for purposes of federal evidence.
- Email addresses. The sender's email address may be sufficient to prove that an email was sent from an entity if the address bears that company's and employee's name. (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org)
You may also ask the other party to stipulate to an email's authenticity.
Is Your Email Evidence Hearsay?
Without a hearsay exception, an email cannot be offered to prove the truth of what is contained in its text. However, if it was sent by the opposing party, or an agent of that party, it is likely admissible. Work emails may also be excepted from the hearsay rule as "business records." However, just because an email was sent at work doesn't mean it's automatically a business record. Workplace chatter and emails not sent in the regular course of business may still be considered hearsay.
Need More Help?
As you can see, using email as evidence in court can be more challenging than it seems. If you have questions about your specific situation, consider consulting an experienced attorney near you.
Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo.
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