New Mexico Supreme Court Clarifies Legal Framework for Use of Social Media Evidence in Trial – Los Alamos Reporter

NEWS FROM THE SUPREME COURT

The state Supreme Court has clarified requirements for allowing social media communications as evidence in New Mexico legal proceedings.

In a unanimous opinion, the state’s highest court for the first time addressed a legal issue regarding guidelines governing the admissibility of social media evidence. The judges concluded that “authentication of social media evidence is governed by the traditional authentication standard” in the Rules of Court Procedure – Rule of Evidence Rule 11-901.

New Mexico’s current rule requires a party to a case to present “sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that the item is what the sponsor claims it to be.”

“We reiterate that, to meet this threshold, the sponsor does not need to conclusively demonstrate authorship of the evidence; arguments disputing authorship are about the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility,” the Court wrote in an opinion by Judge Briana H. Zamora.

At a trial, a judge initially decides whether evidence can be presented to the jury. The judge must determine whether a party discharges its burden of proof showing that the evidence is authentic. It is the responsibility of the jurors to assess the credibility of the evidence to reach a verdict.

Appeals courts across the country, the court noted, have been faced with the question of whether a heightened legal standard is needed to validate social media evidence, as the relative anonymity of statements via media platforms social media can increase the potential for fraud and lying.

But the judges determined that “authentication challenges arising from the use of social media evidence in litigation are not so different in nature or severity from the challenges that courts routinely face in authenticating conventional writings.”

“We are not convinced that authenticating messages transmitted between Facebook users poses unique obstacles compared to authenticating evidence from other electronic sources, such as text messages sent between mobile devices,” said the courtyard.

A higher standard for social media communications, such as requiring evidence from the social media company or the user’s computer, “would too often prevent the investigator from providing reliable evidence based on a subset artificially narrow number of authentication factors”, according to the Court. .

In today’s notice, the Court reversed a decision of the State Court of Appeals and reinstated a misdemeanor decision against a 17-year-old girl for unlawfully taking a motor vehicle and reckless driving in 2020. After a jury trial in Portales, a district court judge ordered that the girl – Jesenya O. – be taken into the custody of the Department of Children, Youth and Families for a period of up to one year. The New Mexico Courts of Appeals, in their written opinions, do not fully identify the name of a minor tried as a delinquent offender.

The justices agreed with the Court of Appeal that the traditional authentication standard should be used for social media evidence, but found it misapplied the rule in the case. The Court of Appeals determined that the state failed to establish the authenticity of the instant messages presented as evidence in the tort proceedings.

“We believe that the state’s authentication evidence was sufficient under Rule 11-901 to support a conclusion that, more likely than not, the Facebook Messenger account used to send the messages belonged to the child. and that the child was the author of the messages,” the court said. Facebook has changed its name and now operates as Meta.

Messages between the girl and Jeremiah Erickson, then 19, talk about her being drunk, getting her car taken and crashing the night before while they were together in February 2020.

The Court explained that “the presence of what appears to be Child’s name and photo on the February 25 messages was, by itself, insufficient to establish that the messages were sent by Child or from his account” .

However, the Court found that the state had sufficiently authenticated the posts through a combination of factors – Erickson’s testimony about his history of communicating on Facebook with the child; the content of messages about an incident that very few people would know about so soon after it happened; and message appearances matching the child’s Facebook username and profile picture.

“Insofar as Child suggested in his testimony that someone else might have had access to his phone and been the author of the messages in question, this was an assertion to be weighed by the jury in his consideration of the evidence and not an obstacle to its admissibility,” the court wrote.

To read the decision in State against Jesenya O.No. S-1-SC-38769, please visit the New Mexico Compilation Commission website using the following link: https://nmonesource.com/nmos/nmsc/en/item/521174/index.do

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