Uncovering what really happened is the goal of any legal case. But in order to do that, courts must admit evidence for review. 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.
In Walker v. Harley-Anderson, 45 Fla. L. Weekly D2116a (Fla. 4th DCA 2020)¹, the case appeal revolved around text message admissibility and injunction to prevent stalking. The basis was that the petitioner received several threatening text messages from the respondent. However, the respondent claimed to have never sent the messages and did not recognize the phone number from which these threats were sent.
In the end, the court failed to authenticate the evidence. The respondent appealed the injunction and the Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed that the court did not properly complete the authentication of evidence.
Can text messages be used in court?
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.
However, it’s important to know that text messages are not always admissible. In some cases, they may be considered hearsay and not sufficiently relevant to the case. Also, if the texts are not authenticated, they will not be admissible in court.
How do you authenticate text messages for court?
Authenticating digital evidence² for a trial is crucial to making your case in court. In order for text messages or other digital evidence to be admissible in court, it must be authenticated. To do this, the evidence must meet certain requirements:
- Screenshot or photograph of the message
- The text message is readable and clearly displayed
- Contains the name and/or phone number of the person sending the message
- Shows the date and time the text message was sent
Also, attorneys can authenticate text messages using witness testimony. A witness may have internal knowledge of distinctive characteristics or insight into the use of screen names, emoji usage, phone numbers, or references to facts that are not widely known.
What is the Florida law for admissibility of text messages?
Most of the laws surrounding the admissibility of text messages are found in Florida statutes:
- 90.801³ – Hearsay definition
- 90.802⁴ – Hearsay evidence is inadmissible
- 90.803⁵ – Hearsay exceptions
- 90.804⁶ – Hearsay exceptions when the declarant is unavailable
- 90.805⁷ – Hearsay within hearsay
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.
How do you lay 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.
Can you admit 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 as evidence in the case.
What are examples of harassing text message evidence?
Sending abusive messages via text is a form of harassment. These may come in the form of violent threats, sexually explicit content, bullying, or violation of restraining orders. Even just sending several messages at all hours can be seen as abusive, no matter what the content. Some offenders know how to send a timed text, leaving victims with hundreds of messages a day.
Unfortunately, harassing text messages often accompany other unwanted or illegal behavior, including:
- Domestic violence
- Online bullying
- Workplace sexual harassment
Victims of harassment have rights and deserve to seek justice for their suffering. Contact an attorney to see if you qualify to bring a legal claim against the offender.
What can I do if I receive harassing text messages?
If you’re receiving harassing text messages, you may qualify to file harassment charges or request a restraining order against the responsible party. However, along with taking legal action, it’s important that you take steps to stop the behavior as soon as you recognize the harassment.
1. Make It Clear You Want the Behavior to Stop
Ask the offender to stop their harassing behavior immediately. It’s crucial that the authorities see that you tried to handle the situation on your own and made it very clear that you wanted the harassment to stop.
2. Stop All Communication With That Person
Rather than escalate the situation, it’s best to cease communicating with the harasser. Although you may want to retaliate or defend yourself, your response may be viewed as reciprocal harassment and actually hurt your case. Stop all responses and reactions to the messages.
3. Preserve Evidence of the Harassment
It’s understandable that you might want to delete text messages with harassing content. However, you may be able to use these texts as evidence if you choose to move forward with legal action. Save these texts, take screenshots, and back up images and conversations.
Also, you may need to share copies with law enforcement. But be sure to keep a copy of all text messages for yourself in case it becomes misplaced or lost in the process.
4. Contact the Authorities
If you’re being harassed through text messages, report the incident to law enforcement officials. Even if they are unable to stop the behavior immediately, you’ll have an official record of reporting the offender’s actions on file. This record may become pivotal if the situation continues to intensify and you must take legal action even further.
5. Work With an Attorney
Harassment of any kind is illegal. That means the offender can be made to pay the consequences for their behavior, which may include fines and jail time, depending on the type and severity of their actions. If the harassment targets a protected class (race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), it could even be considered a felony.
How Far Back Can Text Messages Be Retrieved?
If you’re searching for an old text message to possibly use as evidence in court, you may be able to retrieve messages as far back as several months to several years. However, it really depends on your service provider and whether you save text messages to a cloud service. Contact your carrier to see if old text messages can be retrieved.
Can I Recover Deleted Text Messages to Use as Evidence?
If you deleted a text message, it may be more difficult to recover. However, some deleted texts are saved in a cloud service, such as iCloud, and are still available on other devices signed in to your account even if you deleted them on one of your devices. If you don’t know how to search iMessage or other types of text messaging services, you should contact the service provider to get more details.
Can Text Messages Be Forwarded?
If you’re trying to send a text message you received to another person, there are several ways you can do this. One common way is to take a screenshot of the text and send it as an image. You can also select text messages and forward them to other numbers or email addresses using settings on your phone.
However, if you want to forward text messages you receive on your phone to your laptop, tablet, or desktop, you can enable this through forwarding options also. You will be able to view text messages sent and received from other logged-in devices.
Are you still wondering how to get text messages from another phone sent to mine? If you’re unsure how to complete these steps and are trying to preserve a text message that may be used as evidence in your case, work with an experienced attorney who can help you save and authenticate these texts as admissible evidence.
How Do I Save Text Messages I Want to Use as Evidence?
Outside of just saving screenshots and images of text messages that you hope to use as evidence, there are several online tools that can help you save, export, and print text message conversations for court. Any written evidence must be presented in a format that is readable by the judge and can be preserved by the court reporter.
If you’re wondering how to print text messages from iPhone for court, free services are available online that can help you export and organize these text threads and conversations.
When Is Text Message Evidence Helpful in Court Trials?
There are different scenarios in which text messages are admissible evidence and help to uncover the truth of what happened. For many people, we communicate through texting more than we do talking on the phone, emailing, or other methods of communication. That means there’s often crucial evidence in text messages.
Some types of cases in which text messaging evidence can help include:
- Family law cases
- Harassment lawsuits
- Request for a restraining order
- Defamation cases
- Personal injury cases
However, it’s important to remember that text messages must be authenticated in order to be admissible in court. Working with an experienced attorney who understands the discovery process and the necessary steps to authenticate digital evidence will help you get successful results in your case.
What If Text Messages Were Meant to Be Private?
If criminal or illegal activities were discussed via text messaging, it can be admissible in court if properly authenticated and relevant to the case. It doesn’t matter if the messages were written and sent with the assumption they would be private between the sender and recipient.
However, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a warrant is necessary to seize a person’s cell phone in the case of Riley v. California⁸. In order to obtain a search warrant, law enforcement needs probable cause. Then, there will be access to text messages on that phone during the investigation.
Can Text Messaging Evidence Be Used In Personal Injury Cases?
Personal injury attorneys may be able to use text messages as evidence to prove their client’s case and get maximum compensation for damages under the law. Some personal injury cases that may benefit from admissible digital evidence include:
- Car accidents
- Motorcycle accident
- Truck accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
In many states, there are laws against texting while operating a motor vehicle to prevent distracted driving accidents. Your personal injury lawyer may be able to obtain a court order or subpoena to get text messaging records that prove the responsible party was texting while driving. This will ensure the accident victim gets a fair settlement offer or compensation from the insurance company for all losses, such as:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Property damage
- Future medical care
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
How Can an Attorney Help With Text Messaging Evidence?
It’s not always easy to recover lost or deleted text messages. Additionally, the process to authenticate, lay the foundation for court admissibility, and ensure the text messages are admissible in court is a complex process that takes time and diligence. A lawyer who has experience in this field knows the steps to take to get this done quickly and effectively.
Most attorneys and law firms offer a free, no-obligation consultation to help victims understand their rights. These consultations are also designed to identify if you have a case and what your legal claim may be worth based on the initial details. If you’re unsure if you have a qualifying case, speak with a lawyer to see what your legal options are.
Contact Our Tampa Injury Lawyers for a Consultation Today
Our Florida injury attorneys can help you if you have a civil legal claim. We dedicate our practice to helping injury victims seek justice through personal injury claims. When you’re hurt or have suffered due to another person’s negligence or reckless behavior, you may qualify to take legal action for compensation. Call or contact us today to see how we can represent you. There is no fee unless you win.
²Sozio, M. (27 April 2017). Authenticating Digital Evidence at Trial. American Bar Association (ABA). Retrieved 23 June 2022.