ARE TEXT MESSAGES EVIDENCE IN COURT?
Americans have grown so dependent on mobile phones for communication that we send billions of text messages to one another every day. Naturally, it stands to reason that at least tens of millions of those texts are between married couples.
When these couples decide to get a divorce, however, text messages between spouses could be harmful to a spouse’s legal interests. The question, then, is whether text messages can be used in Florida family law courts.
CAN TEXT MESSAGES BE USED AS EVIDENCE IN COURT?
Whether a spouse is caught texting a lover or sent angry text messages that could harm them in custody proceedings, there are a whole host of reasons why a spouse would not want text messages to be used as evidence. The corollary of this notion is that the other spouse would have significant legal leverage if those very same messages were admissible as evidence in a Florida family law court.
As a general rule, courts across the country have held that existing rules of evidence are generally adequate for authenticating electronic information such as emails and text messages. This legal concept of “authentication” is a critical component for admitting anything, including text messages, as evidence.
Evidence in family court must be authenticated, meaning the evidence can be shown to be what a party claims it to be. If, however, text messages can meet this authentication standard, then the texts may be treated as evidence in family court.
WHAT IS AUTHENTICITY?
Fed. R. Evid. 901(b)(4) makes clear that evidence may be authenticated based on its “distinctive characteristics” or other characteristics of the item, “taken together with all the circumstances.”
Text messages in a family law case could be construed to have “distinctive characteristics”, which will help authenticate the evidence and make it admissible. For example, an abusive text message that berates the children could have distinctive characteristics that make the text message sufficiently authenticated based on the text’s distinctive contents.
While evidentiary rules and case law can be quite complex to dissect, the key takeaway for you is that text messages can be admissible as evidence in a divorce. That said, some types of evidence via text message may be inadmissible in court. For example, if a spouse snoops on their spouse’s phone to find evidence of immoral behavior, this evidence will not be admissible in court.
There are other challenges to text message admissibility as well, such as proving who wrote and sent a text message. In sum, the issue is a complicated one best discussed with a trusted Florida family lawyer.