Limits To Relying On Internet Materials And Information In Court (Part III)

Seventh Circuit agrees that web posts were inadmissible unless authenticated, among other challenges to the Internet evidence, in United States v. Jackson, 208 F.3d 633 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 973 (2000)

A fraud case underscored that postings on the Internet are inadmissible unless they are authenticated.

Defendant Jackson claimed that three packages containing art prints were damaged and defaced with racial epithets and one package was lost. She originally purchased the prints for a total of $2,000. She submitted a false claim for $572,000. An investigation exposed her role in the scheme and she was charged with fraud and obstruction counts.

As part of her defense, she argued that a white supremacist group had claimed responsibility for the racist mailings in web site postings. She sought to introduce the web postings at trial. The trial court excluded the web postings after the defendant failed to authenticate them. After her conviction on all counts, she argued on appeal that the her defense was foreclosed by the failure to admit the web postings.

The circuit considered the admissibility of the web postings under several grounds. As the circuit explained, “Jackson needed to show that the web postings in which the white supremacist groups took responsibility for the racist mailings actually were posted by the groups, as opposed to being slipped onto the groups' web sites by Jackson herself, who was a skilled computer user…. Jackson was unable to show that these postings were authentic.” Jackson, 208 F.3d at 638. The circuit also noted that it was “a close call” whether the web postings were inadmissible under FRE 403 as unfairly prejudicial. The postings were also offered for the truth of the matter and therefore were inadmissible as hearsay. There was no showing that the web postings were admissible as business records under FRE 803(6), as the defendant urged.

In Jackson, while the opinion noted other bases which may have been sufficient to exclude the web postings, clearly the postings were inadmissible as being unauthenticated. The Jackson case emphasizes the importance and challenges in authenticating Internet evidence. Other examples concerning the Limits To Relying On Internet Materials And Information In Court have been noted in Part I, and Part II of this series.

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