Legal Memorandum: "Authenticity" of a Document

Issue: When is a document deemed ‘authentic,’ for purposes of the Federal Rules of Evidence?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Evidence; Authenticity of a document
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 140 F.3d 915; 217 F.3d 1145; 129 F.3d 917; 972 F.2d 931; 692 F.2d 1335; 977 F.2d 1067; 846 F.2d 1239; 538 F.2d 807; 547 F.2d 778
Cited Statutes: Fed. R. Evid. 901(b)(2); Fed. R. Evid. 903; Fed. R. Civ. P. 1004(1), (3); Fed. R. Evid. 801(c)
Date: 04/01/2001

           Abuse of discretion is the proper standard of review of a district court’s evidentiary rulings.  General Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 141 (1997).  The Court of Appeals may not reverse unless the ruling is “manifestly erroneous.”  Id. at 141; Michigan Millers Mut. Ins. Corp. v. Benfield, 140 F.3d 915, 920-21 (11th Cir. 1998).

With respect to the evidence required to show a document’s authenticity under Rule 901(a) the standard is one of “reasonable likelihood” that the evidence is authentic; all that is required is enough to allow a reasonable person to believe it is what it purports to be.  United States v. Goichman, 547 F.2d 778, 784 (3d Cir. 1976).  The requisite showing of authenticity is not on a par with more technical evidentiary rules such as hearsay exceptions, for example.  Id. at 784.  Once a prima facie case is made the fact finder may ultimately determine the authenticity.  Id.  Circumstantial evidence is sufficient.  United States v. Arce, 997 F.2d 1123, 1128 (5th Cir. 1993).  Only a very minimal showing is necessary “which will not be disturbed unless there is no competent evidence in the record to support it.”  Bury v. Marietta Dodge, 692 F.2d 1335, 1338 (11th Cir. 1982); see Stuckey v. Northern Propane Gas Co., 874 F.2d 1563, 1574 (11th Cir. 1989) ( document, “cut-and-pasted excerpts of committee meetings,” was sufficiently authenticated when the only evidence offered on the point was the testimony of a […]

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