Text messages can be valuable pieces of evidence in legal matters. From personal injury accidents to criminal matters to family law disputes, text messages can shed light on the truth. But are they admissible in court? Do the courts think that text messages are reliable evidence? Our Tampa personal injury attorneys explain whether text messages are admissible in court in Florida.
Does Florida Consider Text Messages Admissible in Court?
Yes, text messages are admissible in court in Florida. The general rule is that text messages are allowed as evidence. However, to be accepted into evidence, the text message must meet certain requirements and have the proper authentication. The Florida Rules of Evidence say that text messages are admissible in court in Florida as long as the person trying to admit the evidence meets the qualifications for admission based on all of the other rules that apply.
Are Text Messages Admissible as Evidence?
Yes, text messages are admissible as evidence. There may be several different grounds to lawfully admit text messages into evidence like a text directly from the other party in the case or a statement made during an exciting or stressful event. A text message is an out of court statement. If there are grounds to admit the statement based on the other existing rules of evidence, text messages are admissible as evidence.
Florida Law for Admissibility of Text Messages – Florida Statutes 90.801
Most of the laws surrounding the admissibility of text messages are found in Florida statutes 90.801, 90.802, 90.803, 90.804, and 90.805. Whether a text message is admissible depends on the exact circumstances of the text message. There are several legal rules of evidence and exceptions to the rules. The first determination is whether the text message is admissible to prove the truth of what’s said in the text message.
For example, if the message says, “The sky is blue today,” and you’re trying to prove that it was a clear day, the message is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. On the other hand, if the text message says “The sky is blue today,” and you’re trying to show that the person was in the area and had their cell phone on them, the statement is not offered to prove the truth of what is asserted in the text message.
The difference is significant – when a statement is offered to prove the truth of what is asserted in the message, the text must meet one of the listed exceptions in Florida laws 90.801-90.805 to be admissible. However, if the statement is not offered to prove its truth, the statement is not hearsay, and it is generally admissible. So the first step to any inquiry about the admissibility of text messages is to look at why you’re admitting the text message into evidence.
Laying a Foundation to Admit a Text Message Into Evidence
If a statement is not hearsay, you generally only need to lay a foundation and authenticate the text message to have it admitted into evidence. That just means having someone testify to what the text message is. The attorney shows the person the text message and asks them to explain what it is. The person explains what the message is and how they received it.
Ultimately, the judge makes the call about whether the text message is reliable enough to be admitted. You don’t necessarily have to use the person who sent the text message as the person who authenticates the text message, either. The person who receives it or even another person who sees it can be enough. Several years ago, courts were skeptical of admitting text messages as evidence. However, the practice is now common. For non-hearsay text messages, as long as you follow the foundation, authentication, and relevance requirements, the text messages can be admissible in court.
Admitting Text Messages That Are Hearsay
In most cases, a text message is going to be hearsay. That means it’s a statement made out of court, that a party wants to use to prove the truth of what’s in the text message. Even if a text is hearsay, there’s still a good chance that it may be admissible in court. There are many exceptions to the hearsay rule that allows a text message to come into evidence. Here are some of the exceptions:
- Statement of the other party – The most common way that a text message comes into evidence is when it’s a statement of the other party. Florida law 90.803(18) says that a statement is admissible when the opposing side makes it. The text message must be offered against the other party, and it must be their own statement.
- Impeachment – The text message is used to call a person’s prior testimony into question. For example, if the person texts that “The sky was blue that day,” but then they testify under oath that it was raining, you can admit the text message to call their credibility into question.
- Bolstering credibility – On the other hand, a statement can be used to reinforce a person’s testimony when another person has accused them of being dishonest or mistaken. You can admit the text message to prove that their testimony is consistent with their previous text message.
- Excited utterance/Current existing statement of mind – When a person makes a statement, like sending a text message, while an event is ongoing, or during the stress of an unusual event, a statement that is otherwise hearsay may be admissible in evidence.
- Lack of memory/Refusal to testify – If a person claims a lack of memory to the point that their testimony isn’t useful, or if they refuse to testify despite a court order to do so, prior statements like text messages are admissible into evidence.
The same rules that are used to admit other kinds of out of court statements apply to admitting text messages. Generally, text messages are accepted as reliable evidence in Florida courts. However, the person who wants to admit the text message must follow the rules of evidence. They must be prepared to show the court how the text message fits the admissibility requirements of the Florida Rules of Evidence. Ultimately, the court decides whether to accept text messages into evidence in the case.
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