Computer Records Admitted Under Public Records Hearsay Exception

Government computer deportation records admitted under public records hearsay exception and did not violate the Confrontation Clause, in United States v. Lopez–Moreno, 420 F.3d 420 (5th Cir. 2005), cert. denied, 546 U.S. 1222 (2006)

The admission of the content of computer records may be challenged on hearsay grounds. In one case, the public records hearsay exception was used to admit government deportation records. Additionally, a Confrontation Clause challenge was denied since the records were not testimonial under Crawford.

In the case, during a traffic stop for non-functioning brake lights, an officer made contact with the driver of a van and noticed several other passengers. The driver did not know the names of the passengers or how many there were. After the immigration status of the passengers became an issue, the driver was arrested for transporting undocumented aliens. Before trial seven of nine passengers were deported. Another passenger was a minor and stayed with family awaiting a deportation hearing. Another passenger was released on bond and was ordered deported after failing to appear. Before trial, the defendant unsuccessfully opposed the admission of evidence from the passengers’ “A files” (or “Alien files”) on hearsay and Confrontation Clause grounds. One item admitted at trial from each A-file was a Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement computer printout indicating the date each individual was deported. The defendant was convicted.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit agreed that the computer deportation records were properly admitted under FRE 803(8), the public records hearsay exception. The circuit noted: “Under Rule 803(8), records, including computer records, made by a public agency are admissible, regardless of whether they would otherwise be excluded as hearsay.” Lopez–Moreno, 420 F.3d at 436.

On the Confrontation Clause claim, the public computer records were not testimonial. The circuit concisely analogized the records as similar to business records, which are widely accepted as non-testimonial under Crawford v. Washington , 541 U.S. 36, 56 (2004) (“Most of the hearsay exceptions covered statements that by their nature were not testimonial—for example, business records or statements in furtherance of a conspiracy.”).

The case highlights how computer records that satisfy the public records exception may be admitted over a hearsay objection. FRE 803(8) also provides that public “[r]ecords, reports, statements, or data compilations, in any form,” may be introduced where the requirements of the rule are met. (Emphasis added.) The fact that the records were in the form of computer records was not a bar.

Federal Rules of Evidence