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Emails as Proof in a Small Claims Trial

Posted by attorney Alan Brinkmeier

E-mails are more prone to problems of authenticity and hearsay than traditional written documents. E-mails are also more prone to a kind of hearsay-within-hearsay problem: an "e-mail chain" attaches to an e-mail every e-mail that came before it in a discussion. It isn't enough to get the most recent e-mail into evidence when that e-mail attaches a string of previous e-mails. All of the prior e-mails may need to be separately authenticated to be found admissible. Authenticate In order to ensure that an e-mail will be admitted into evidence, a proper foundation for its authenticity must be laid. This is done by the questions you ask of the email author. Admission Then, a hurdle of getting an e-mail into evidence is the hearsay rule. By definition, hearsay is an out-of-court statement "offered in evidence to prove the matter asserted." The first way, therefore, to overcome a hearsay challenge to the admission of an e-mail is to claim that it's not hearsay at all. Hearsay Another way to overcome a hearsay challenge is to fit the e-mail into one of the exceptions to the hearsay rule. These exceptions are permitted because their context makes them likely to be reliable. This too is done by the questions you ask of the email author.

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