PA Superior Court: No Separate Standard for Admissibility of Text Messages
In Commonwealth v. Koch, the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed the issue of the admissibility of text messages. This is an important issue as the courts are increasingly being called on to make new evidentiary rulings as technology evolves. In Koch, the court reversed the defendant’s drug conviction because the court found that the trial court improperly allowed the prosecution to present evidence of the defendant’s alleged text messages. In doing so, the Superior Court refused to create a separate standard for the admissibility of text messages, instead requiring the prosecution to authenticate the evidence just as they are required to do with other types of evidence.
Rule 901 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence requires that evidence be properly authentication before being admitted at trial. In Koch, the prosecution presented text messages the defendant allegedly sent and received, and tried to use the text messages to link the defendant to a drug operation. The prosecution simply relied on the fact that the telephone was registered to the defendant to admit the messages into evidence. The defendant’s attorney properly objected to the evidence under Rule 901 and argued that, even though the messages were found on the defendant’s telephone, other people used the telephone, and there was no evidence to demonstrate that the defendant herself sent or received the messages. The defendant’s attorney also argued that certain messages had been deleted from the telephone, allowing the remaining messages to be taken out of context. The trial court overruled the objection and admitted the evidence, and the defendant was found guilty.
On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court agreed with the defense attorney and ruled that the text messages should not have been admitted into evidence. In so ruling, the court overturned the conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. The court found that the prosecution may not simply rely on the fact that the telephone was registered to a certain person, but instead must demonstrate that the messages contain information or identifiers that are unique to the party. It is important to note that the Koch case may have had a different outcome if the prosecution had presented such additional evidence.
This is an important ruling because the court clearly stated that the admissibility of electronic communications will not be subject to a relaxed standard, thus making it more difficult for the prosecution to admit such communications into evidence against a defendant. This case also highlights the importance of being represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney.
This article is not legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.