Self authenticating evidence vs hearsay

Author: LegalEase Solutions

QUESTION PRESENTED

Whether there is support for an objection to the entry of public records in this case where the Defendant was the custodian of the records and the Defendant had no standards by which the records were maintained?

 RESEARCH FINDINGS

It is unlikely that a court will find inadmissible New Jersey driving records that are sought to be admitted by their custodian who did not keep the documents in accordance with a set standard. New Jersey public documents are deemed self-authenticating wherever they “purport[] to bear a signature affixed in an official capacity by an officer or employee of the State of New Jersey or of a political subdivision, department, office, or agency thereof.” N.J.R.E. 902. Furthermore, state driving records are regularly admitted under the public records exception to the hearsay rule. Public records will not be admissible where “the sources of information or other circumstances indicate that [the public records] are not trustworthy.” N.J.R.E. 803; see also Villanueva v. Zimmer, 431 N.J. Super. 301, 314, 69 A.3d 131, 139 (App. Div. 2013). However, no case law was found stating that Defendant/State’s keeping of driving records or any other type of records without any set standards indicated untrustworthiness of the records. Rather, courts have consistently admitted state driving records under a myriad of circumstances. Therefore, a court will likely admit the driving records in this case.

It has been stated that “a conviction for operating a vehicle while on the suspended/revoked driver’s list … may be predicated upon the admission into evidence of a certified copy of defendant’s driving record, which is properly admissible under [N.J.R.E.] 803(c)(6).” State v. Marin, A-1451-09T3, 2011 WL 3557487, at *2 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Aug. 15, 2011) (citing Biunno, Weissbard & Zegas, Current N.J. Rules of Evidence, comment 1 on N.J.R.E. 803(c)(6) (2011); State v. Zalta, 217 N.J.Super. 209, 214 (App.Div.1987)). The Marin Court found that “[p]ursuant to N.J.R.E. 803(c)(6), the State properly introduced into evidence defendant’s certified driver’s abstract to substantiate his violations of N.J.S.A. 39:3–40” and the Law Division’s decision was reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record.” Id. In Marin, when Defendant objected to the State’s introduction of “certified driver’s abstract from the Motor Vehicle Commission ‘because it did not appear to be a certified copy’” the judge affirmed the decision of the lower court which had admitted the evidence “not[ing] that a New Jersey public document is not required to have a seal and admitted the driver’s abstract into evidence.” State v. Marin, A-2656-10T3, 2013 WL 1222703, at *1 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Mar. 27, 2013).

It has been held that “DMV records of drivers’ license suspensions are deemed sufficiently reliable to be admissible as prima facie evidence of the fact.” State v. Pitcher, 379 N.J.Super. 308, 319 (App.Div.2005). “Pursuant to N.J.R.E. 902(b), ‘extrinsic evidence of authenticity as a condition precedent to admissibility is not required’ when the document bears a seal from any state. Further, N.J.R.E. 902(b)(1) requires that the document bear ‘a signature purporting to be an attestation or execution.’” State v. Colley, 936 A.2d 1005, 1009 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2007) (quoting N.J.R.E. 902(b)). Thus, in order “to satisfy the self-authentication requirements found in N.J.R.E. 902(b), a document must bear ‘a signature purporting to be an attestation or execution.’” State v. Colley, 936 A.2d 1005, 1010 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2007). Thus, so long as the abstracts the State seeks to enter bear a state seal and a signature, as do most public records, they will be admissible without considering any extrinsic evidence of authenticity.

CONCLUSION

Driving records are regularly admitted to prove repeated offenses and are regularly deemed self-authenticating. No case law was found indicating that a court might not admit a driving record where it was offered by the state and the state failed to keep the records in accordance with a certain standard.